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Phases of the Moon Activities & Games

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Understanding the phases of the moon requires students grasping how things work in 3D space. This isn't always easy. Help them learn and stay focused by trying some of these games and activities.

Moon Phases Activities and Games

The Moon can be difficult for young students to understand. From our vantage point on earth it looks like the moon changes shape and doesn't rotate. Even for students who know the moon doesn't change shape, it appears as though only parts of it are lit at once. In fact, the moon is always the same shape, constantly rotates, and half of the moon is always lit up at once. Getting students to understand the geometry of the situation is difficult, and so is learning and memorizing the names for the different phases of the Moon. But it can be made easier using some careful, hands-on activities and games.

Modeling Activity

Probably the best way to teach students how the phases of the Moon are formed is using modeling activities. There are many such options for modeling activities that allow students to see for themselves how the phases work. One way is to have students hold a small white ball on a stick to represent the Moon, and turn off all the lights in the classroom except for one, bright lamp. They can then move around their ball on a stick to look at their representation of the Moon from different angles and see how it looks different depending on the vantage point.

Rather than use individual balls, you could also have a large ball represent the earth, and a small ball to represent the Moon. A student could then walk around the earth while holding the Moon to represent an orbit. That way most of the students can focus on viewing the Moon from different angles.

Perhaps the best modeling activity, however, is one that puts students right in the center of the action. You can create a device which contains multiple balls arranged in a circle, each representing a different phase of the Moon. Attach these balls to a large piece of cardboard, and cut a hole in the center of the cardboard large enough for someone's head to fit through. Students can put their head through the center of the cardboard, as a light which represents the sun is shined on the balls surrounding them. By turning their head, they will see the phases of the Moon for themselves from the same vantage point as the earth.

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