Video: Modeling Moon Phases—Understanding Lunar Geometry

In this video we build a simple model to show how the Moon goes through phases. We’ll start by modeling the main phases: full, new, and quarter moons and how there’s a repeatable, recurring pattern. Then we’ll see how eclipses occur and why they can only happen during the new moon and full moon phases. Students will enjoy a hands-on, concrete way to engage with a topic that few people understand well.

Many people think that lunar phases are caused by Earth’s shadow but did you know that there’s a simple way to refute this? Were you aware that you can tell whether the Moon is waxing or waning just by seeing it’s position in the sky? Find out why eclipses can only happen during the new moon or the full moon phase.

In the digging deeper section we’ll begin to get a sense of where in the orbit the gibbous and crescent moons form and find out what determines whether they’re waxing or waning.

In the Teacher to Teacher section I talk about the benefit of simulations and why they’re preferable to paper and pencil diagrams when trying to learn a complex topic such as moon phases.

The video includes three parts:
1) Main content, directed to the learner
2) Digging Deeper a more in-depth look at the topic
3) Teacher to Teacher—hints and helps.

This video compliments another video, Moon Phases as Seen from Earth, which looks at developing lunar observation skills. These two videos may be used in conjunction, but each stands alone. Additional videos and written materials on this topic are available, however these are optional. Engaging Science Labs produces materials that are useful for classroom or homeschool environments.

Concepts Addressed
• The Moon’s phase depends on it’s geometry with the sun and Earth.
• Lunar phases progress in a predictable, recurring pattern.
• Eclipses can only happen on two days per cycle, but are rare.

Other resources
Click here to see the companion curriculum:
Space Science & Astronomy Resources

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