Topic #8: Solar System
Activity #1: Phases of the Moon (November 8, 2017)
The purpose of this activity was to exhibit the phases of the moon as they appear from Earth. In this activity, we used a styrofoam ball and a flashlight to model the rotation of the moon around the Earth and how the sun’s light affects the appearance of the moon. We observed four moon phases (new moon, first quarter moon, full moon, and third quarter moon) in terms of their appearance, time of day for rising, time of day it is overhead, time of day for setting, and time of day it is hidden.
I would introduce this activity to my students by explaining why the phases of the moon occur—the rotation of the moon around the Earth. It would also be beneficial to explain the difference between waxing, which is when the the moon is increasing in brightness and moving towards a full moon, and waning, which is when the moon is decreasing in brightness and moving towards a new moon. In order to provide a visual representation of the moon phases, the students could then get into small groups and model how the moon appears as the sun’s light travels to the moon and then to a person’s eyes by using the styrofoam ball and flashlight. Observing the appearance of the moon at different times of the day during this activity can help student’s better understand how the phases of the moon occur.
Students may have difficulty with this activity in terms of understanding the difference between waxing and waning and how the phases of the moon differ in appearance. It may also be difficult for students to understand the moon’s position in the sky during certain times of day. This could be made easier for students by having them make their own diagram of the phases of the moon so that they can more easily observe the order and the times for the rising and setting of the moon for different positions.
Activity #2: Earth’s Seasons (November 13, 2017)
During this activity, we observed the seasons the Earth experiences due to the tilt of the rotational axis of the Earth with respect to its orbit around the sun. Using a styrofoam ball to represent Earth (with a line of tape to represent the equator) and a flashlight to represent the sun, we observed the amount and intensity of sunlight as we rotated the Earth around the sun at a tilted angle in order to determine the season. We demonstrated four positions to correlate with the four seasons in the northern hemisphere: Summer Solstice in June, Fall Equinox in September, Winter Solstice in December, and Spring Equinox in March. The purpose of this activity was to model the relationship between the Earth and the sun in regards to Earth’s seasonal changes.
In order to introduce the concept of seasons to my students, I would have them perform a similar activity in small groups. Being able to have a visual representation of how the seasons change, as well as being able to complete a hands-on activity would be beneficial for students’ understanding of the four seasons. However, students may have difficulty understanding how the angle of the Earth’s tilt affects the seasons that Earth experiences as it rotates around the sun. Furthermore, students may struggle with the seasonal differences between the northern and southern hemispheres—for them, it wouldn’t make sense that the Summer Solstice occurs in December, for example. In order to extend this activity, the students could observe the seasons of both the northern and southern hemispheres to better understand the differences.