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Elementary Science Education

Plotting the Movement of the Moon

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    • #7928

      Bernard Nebel

      I apologize for the directions for tracking the orbit of the moon, given in Part 2 of this lesson, being unclear. I hope the following directions help. The objective is to plot position of the moon at nightly intervals and through this gain evidence that the moon is orbiting the earth. The technique described is an exercise in modeling.

      You (the student) are sitting looking at the sky and noting the position and phase of the moon at the same time on successive evenings. Beside you on the table is a model of you, yourself, observing the sky. You are represented by a “pea”. A half circle of poster board placed on edge around the pea represents the half of the sky that you see to the south. Place it such that the right hand edge is to the west, the depth of the curve, south, and the left hand edge, east. At the bottom of your poster, you may draw in whatever features exit along the horizon line–building(s), trees, etc.

      Now, the task is take your real-life observation of the position and phase of the moon and transfer it to the model. If you were the “pea” and the surrounding poster board representing the view of the sky how and where would the moon be placed on the poster? For example, your real-life observation of the new moon will be a thin crescent close to the horizon in the west relatively close to the setting sun. On the model, this should be a thin crescent in the lower right (west) corner of the poster. Carry on with similar observations and recording of the phase and position of the moon at the same time on successive nights.

      Upcoming dates for new moon can be found at:

      (The time of day for each phase is precise times for astronomical purposes. For our purpose only pay attention to the dates.)


      Please post how it goes. I hope one of you will post a video your son/daughter doing it.

      The following video gives an explanation for the phases of the moon. It should confirm what your kids conclude from their own observations. (It also provides names for the phases between new and full moon that you may add as you wish.)

    • #7949


      Another video that I found very helpful for myself is

      It helped me get a better sense of when the various phases of the moon would be visible. We recreated his drawing (using paper plates) and used it to help predict where the moon would be on nights when we couldn’t see it due to clouds/rain/schedule conflicts.

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