Adventures in Earth-Sun-Moon Interactions!

We ran as if to meet the moon.

– Robert Frost

Once in a blue moon, my teaching schedule from both schools lines up and I get to teach the same topic at the same time, like a celestial event. Even though I teach 8th grade science on two campuses just 15 minutes apart, I might as well be teaching two totally different preps, on different planets, in different universes. This “Adventure” is more a 10-day celebration of my very different lives synching up – even if just for a moment – than a thematic approach to the 2018 Super-Blood-Blue Moon, eclipses and lunar phases.

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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Nice timing! Right when we’re covering lunar phases, eclipses, tides and gravity in the 8th grade Earth Sun Moon Interactions unit, this awesome Super-Blood-Blue Moon thing happened! For the first time in 150 years, the full Moon was at perigee (“Super”) at the same time as a full lunar eclipse (“Blood”), and January’s second full moon (“Blue”) robbed February of its own.

Here in Montgomery County near DC, we missed the lunar eclipse at 6:45 am (it was barely eclipsing at it set), but got a great view of the rising moon at 6:27 pm, appearing 30% brighter and 14% larger.

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I should have known that even though both schools’ schedules could line up to teach the same content around the Super-Blood-Moon event on January 31, 2018, the resulting approaches would end up being totally different. As usual. Even though their county-wide writing assessment was on solar eclipses, and that was the end-goal of this particular lesson sequence, I’m focusing on lunar eclipses and Earth-Sun-Moon Interactions in this Adventure. We’d already covered eclipses in one school prior to the Supermoon Week, but had not yet in the other school, yet I kicked off the festivities with a single plan. First, we had a one-day Supermoon Research Race to determine the difference between apogee and perigee. I worried that students mixed up these concepts if taught out of context with lunar phases, but I’ll cover that in Undo. We then had a “Moon Off” Observation Contest where each winner of a class-wide show-and-tell contest from evidence of direct observations of the Supermoon event won some Oreo cookies and the “Once in a Blue Moon” pass consisting of one free bell-ringer pass and a choice for the song of the day. Thanks to the great folks in the Kesler Professional Learning Network on Facebook for awesome support and suggestions, like the printable pass shown above! Then, one school proceeded to tides and gravity while the other completed lunar phases, and soon each school was in its own orbit once again…

Teaching the different phenomenon involved in these lessons is all about repetition. 5E is important, but so is making sure abstract concepts like this Supermoon thing this sticks out to them in a relevant way. Obviously, the perfectly timed Supermoon, etc. with our Earth-Moon-Sun Interactions unit was a huge bonus and motivation for me. My biggest take-home from teaching this in two classrooms, however, was the repetition and various modalities needed. We emphasized 2-dimensional labeled diagrams, 3-dimensional models (like the lunar-phases in perspective model shown here), live demonstrations, labs with lamps and moons-on-a-stick and inflatable globes, videos, and simulations. It’s hard to know who ‘got’ what, and honestly the whole process is a blur. I don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for our celebration ‘goals’  – I would have lost track of everything! I made as many notes as I could along the way, including how to STEM up these lessons when possible.

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The whole point of Unit 2’s “Earth Sun Moon Interactions” is for students to create a portfolio that responds to a “Request for Information” for being a movie set consultant with for realistic space movie production, similar to this Anatomy of a Scene from “The Martian.” They use SOME engineering principles like criteria and constraints to build this, but we haven’t come back to this project yet. Stay tuned for more “Adventures.”

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMIn my next Adventure, I’ll also cover more about my “Emoji Prize” system. It’s an evolving citizenship-building incentive program I run every week/month to foster positive and productive group learning. I give small rewards (tiny emoji erasers) for large gains in building student autonomy and self-monitoring. For now, I’ll share howI’m finally able to use the Emoji Prize system to be responsive to students interests, including questions on black holes, galaxies, and constellations. If you like, I can make it the free download next time. But, like any good teacher, I’ve been so swamped teaching and using the systems, I haven’t much time to curate… although my co-teachers and paras have taken to the systems so I’m encouraged to share as soon as possible. Soon!

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Like I said, teaching Earth-Sun-Moon phenomenon is a lot of repetition. It’s important to use terms consistently, and I found very quickly it’s important to set the expectation that students do the same, particularly through labeled diagrams. Increased grading time aside, I needed to focus on students’ accuracy and detail through diagramming (or sketching).

Below are some examples of the effort involved with giving and grading. Fortunately by now, my students are well-aware of my high expectations regarding labeled diagrams. Even so, I found a great diversity, and learned a lot from student-produced models.

Here are some examples regarding rotation and revolution; how day/night is caused by something totally different than seasons, and how revolutions occur from Moon around Earth and Earth/Moon around Sun. Some examples are more detailed than others.

As we transitioned from overall Earth-Sun-Moon systems to lunar phases and eclipses, I found it was easier to get students to be more detailed with their work. This translated to more organized writing, including arguments on lunar and solar eclipses. It helps that we were given several scaffolds to use in the curriculum.

I LOVE this system of ‘rainbow writing’ one of my campuses developed. It forces students to color code their writing AFTER they compose an argument and correctly identify each criteria they should fill in a writing prompt. Definitely going to keep this up!

And this one is a little unrelated, but I definitely learned to be UBER specific with vocabulary definition instructions, like this humorous example below:

My biggest teaching moment was to make sure opportunities for accountable talk or academic discourse are not omitted. Never resist the urge to skip these steps in collaborative learning in an effort to save time. Yes, things get VERY busy in the class, and managing behavior takes lots of time. But of any strategy to omit, opportunity for discourse is not one. It’s what puts the STEM and student-centered classrooms in this, and every future, Adventure.

Hey, wanna tip for helping students understand that a waxing moon means the illumination will be on the right? I discovered that the waxing crescent “shape” on the right fits perfectly inside the word “wax” where no other permutation would:


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Borrowing from the inspiration I got from this popular meme on solar eclipses, I created the quick and easy the Eclipse Photobomb Booth. It went so well, it was a great way to have students model each phase of the moon, not just eclipses. We also used it to finish up our tides investigation to compare neap and spring tides. Students line up to get the best tide for fishing (spring tides, or all in a line), or any permutation you direct.


The photobomb activity is the free download below, if you like.

Here are just some of the results from the “Moon Off” contest. Over a dozen students competed, which means over a dozen students were challenged to make observations they may not have done so otherwise. Next ‘outdoor observation’ contest? New Moon February 15 🙂

This contest was actually a great way to get students outside looking up at night, on their own or with their friends and family. It was also a probe to see what access to technology they utilized and medium they used for delivery. Some gave powerpoints, others videos and images, and others still paintings and sketches. Nice range!

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Let’s go over misconceptions in eclipses and lunar phases. First, the term “eclipse” must be experienced before defined. Just saying ‘lunar eclipse’ vs ‘solar eclipse’ can confuse students if they don’t understand that the moon is in shadow vs. Earth, respectively. Like any vocabulary, the term should be experienced before defined, and this one was especially important for my English Language Learners. I learned this the hard way when students assumed that every full moon is at perigee and every new moon is at apogee. 

Next, beware the wording of how eclipses work, as well as ANY diagram, video or animation. For example, stated how “lunar eclipses are caused by “Earth comes between the Moon and the Sun.” This is misleading, because it is the movement of the Moon that causes eclipses and phases, and it really tripped up a lot of students. I didn’t even show this animation (source unknown), directly linked from our curriculum, because Earth and Moon are revolving the wrong direction and it shows the tilt of Earth changing!


Just like this awful (and I’m sure inadvertently included) example, it’s the unfortunate oversight of stating points-of-view with incorrect instruction for labeled diagrams which I would “Undo” in every curriculum and classroom if I could. In a labeled diagram, is the view of the Earth-Sun-Moon movement “from above,” or from “the side”? If from above, then a provided Earth image needs to be shown at the poles, not the continents. In this example from our curriculum, we have a responsibility to either provide the correct image of Earth’s poles if “seen from above” or specify that student responses will be from the “side” perspective. 

This one (source unknown) on Lunar Phases, while not incorrect, is misleading because it combines both perspectives. The moon receives the same amount of sunlight regardless of its revolution around Earth, but this diagram makes it seem like the amount of light is different, not our perspective.

Misconceptions come from all over, and sadly from our own mistakes. These points may be subtle, but they are HUGE when dealing with higher- and lower-performers simultaneously while teaching. Also, they drive the curriculum developer in me absolutely crazy.

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Unfortunately, the simulators for lunar phases we used were .swf files unavailable for linking here, but they were helpful for students on their Chromebooks. For some reason, my students really ‘got’ this analogy from Bill Nye (more so than usual) for Lunar Phases and baseball. As for the Gravity Party, we didn’t quite get to that in this Adventure once we transitioned to tides. But we did play this AWESOME parody on John Mayer’s “Gravity” with Derek Muhler’s scientifically accurate version on Veratasium. The jist of tides is showing the extreme examples, like the Bay of Fundy in time lapse, and getting students to make predictions as to what is happening, why, and over how long. Also, I love this video on The Tides Song by Sisbro Productions from Riddle in a Bottle. I also liked the many different resources on NASA’s JPL page.

Just a few songs from the Supermoon Song of the Day Playlist: 

Moondance by Van Morrison 
Blue Moon by Frank Sinatra
Blue Moon by Ella Fitzgerald
Gravity by John Mayer

It’s been a phenomenal couple weeks!

Free Download & Thanks

Here is the free download for the Eclipses Photobomb Booth. Let me know what you think! I would love to add some cool comic bubbles and fonts, as well as other props like fishing poles for tides and a noose for gravity, etc.


Site content copyright 2018 Full Circle J. Productions, LLC. Not responsible for any third-party content. All Rights Reserved.

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