Earth and Space Science Class 2: The Moon

Major changes: No Lego or Pokemon cards in the living room during this week’s class! During last week’s class I was feeling a little under the weather (mostly due to lack of sleep) and my 10 year old son also decided to skip class but proceeded to distract everyone by rummaging in Lego boxes during the class time. I responded to feedback and made sure that all boxes were removed from the living room. My 10 year old was under strict instructions to join in with the class and not to be a distraction. He mostly followed the instructions… but next week I need to do something about our duct tape weaponry.

In the class we were studying The Moon. I first asked each child to come up with an interesting fact about the moon that the other children might not know. I know some children don’t want to be put on the spot, but others are welcoming of the opportunity to show off their knowledge, and it helps (to a certain extent) to establish a baseline so that I don’t aim too high or low in my directed activities.

We are still using activities from the Universe in a Box kit. We started off with 1.3 Lunar Day. Two children hold hands and rotate while facing each other. This is to show that although our moon is rotating around its own axis at the same time as orbiting the Earth, it has the same time period of rotation as of the orbit. In other words, it rotates around the Earth every 29.5 Earth Days, and takes the same time to rotate fully around its orbit, so it always faces us with the same side. This is called tidal locking and can be observed in other planet-moon systems too. There is more information about it in the Universe in a Box kit and you can watch a very short animation of tidal locking here. I forgot to use the masks provided in the kit, which would have added a little more excitement to the activity, but perhaps embarrassed the children who were involved.

The next activity linked in to a comment I had last week about being able to fit the diameter of each of the seven planets in between our Earth and our moon. I first thought this was highly unlikely but have had to change my opinion based on this activity.

1.2 Distance to the Moon. Taking our globe, and a polystyrene ball as our moon which I worked out was roughly a quarter of the diameter of our globe, I asked the children to stand where they thought the moon was.  We then used a metre rule to measure out the distance using a scale of  2 cm to every 1,000 km. Try it yourself. (Data taken from the Universe in a Box activity pack.)

Earth’s diameter 12,742 km

Moon’s diameter 3,476 km

Average distance from Earth to Moon 384,400 km

(Note that the Moon’s orbit is elliptical, hence the need for an average distance.)

It is a lot further than you think!

I couldn’t do 1.5 Reflecting Moon, or 1.6 Lunar Phases Visualised as it is near impossible to completely darken our living room. I had made a little model of the moon phases using the instructions in 1.7 Lunar Phases box model. This is a very easy activity to replicate at home. You have a box with an opaque ball suspended in the centre for your moon, a torch shining onto one side of the moon, and four holes to allow for viewing from each side. As long as you choose an opaque object and your torch is aligned properly, it works very well. I also added some flaps of paper over each hole so that you don’t get unwanted light shining from each side.

In my first class I then got quite flustered because I couldn’t find my pictures of the moon phases. Luckily Julija from YuuMii was present and happily provided her moon phases pictures for an earlier-than-planned art class.

There were plenty of other activities to do! We looked at the shapes that different cultures see in the moon, by overlaying transparencies onto a picture of the moon’s surface. (1.9 Multicultural Moon) I also talked about the formation and evolution of our moon and those who were not painting came and created their own lunar landscapes by dropping stones into a tray of flour and cocoa powder. This is another fun kinaesthetic activity (1.4 Lunar Landscape) and the children were very sensible with their stones and no-one got hurt.

lunar style landscape

Here is a video simulation by NASA of the evolution of the moon which shows early volcanism and bombardment by meteorites.

In the later class, I had found my cards with the moon phases. Hooray! The children all thought this was easier than it actually is, but with a few prompts realised you have to pay attention to the position of the features on the moon, to make sure you get the right sequence.

moon phases

I may have confused people when I talked about the Earth’s shadow on the moon. A New Moon is NOT the same as a lunar eclipse. Please read this to correct this error.

There is another activity from the Universe in a Box: 1.1 Mini research project observing the moon every day or night for about a month. I am sorry that I did not hand out pages for recording observations but you can print these out at home if you download the activity book here.

Further Information and resources

For Visual learners

Watch the videos above about the evolution of our moon.

You might like to download the iOS app Moon Globe to show features on the moon, and what the moon looks like with different illumination and from different angles.

The app Solar Walk explains the moon phases better than I probably did in the class!

Moonshot is a beautiful book about Apollo 11.

There is a short animated dreamtime story about how the moon was made here.


Although I talk a lot during classes, I am not an auditory learner myself, so I find it harder to think of suitable ways to cover this material for auditory learners. Many auditory and visual learners will learn well from documentaries about the solar system or astronomy.

However, I was really pleased to find the Astronomy for Kids podcasts, created by a 10 year old boy here in Australia. The NASA Star Child website also has an audio version of their page about the moon.

If you have other suggestions on learning materials for auditory learners, please let me know.


Read about the moon on the Nine Planets website.

See the book Moonshot, linked to above.

Read about how earth’s moon stabilises the planet’s tilt and wobble, but not as much as it was previously thought

Look out for children’s stories based on lunar mythology, for example How the Moon Regained Her Shape which draws on Native American folklore, or The Rabbit in the Moon (Chinese).

Children can carry on creating their own lapbooks or mini books about Earth and Space science, adding facts about the moon to the material about the Sun from last week.


The activities I didn’t manage to do in the class (1.6 and 1.7 )would be good activities to try at home. I think they would really help to clarify how the moon rotates around the Earth and how we see different phases of the moon depending on the relative positions of the Earth, sun and moon. You can also try making your own lunar phases box model (1.7).

There’s a freebie on Teachers Pay Teachers using Oreos to model the phases of the moon. As a British expat, I can’t help but prefer Jaffa cakes instead, although please note that the teacher should have said ‘new moon’ instead of ‘total eclipse’!

Catching up

Do most 8 year olds know the difference between sedimentary and igneous rocks? I think it was a bit crazy of me to assume this prior knowledge. And covering plate tectonics in one session was similarly overoptimistic. I have re-jigged both Nurture Learning sessions to address these issues.

The Friday group mostly concentrated on plate tectonics as they have already learned about rock types with me, in a previous term. We looked at different types of plate boundary and what might happen at each of them. We used household sponges to indicate the plates, and the mantle underneath. I was very pleased with the children’s insights (for example, working out that a diverging plate boundary would mean creation of new rock, or lithosphere). Next week I will reinforce this thinking by showing them a map of the age of the ocean floor in different parts of the world, and how it fits in with where we think the plate boundaries are.

In the Wednesday group we spent more time covering different rock types and how they form. We made use of this section of the BBC KS3 Bitesize website which has some good, simple designs of sedimentary rocks forming. I did one of my usual blurbs about how igneous rocks form (backed up by another picture). We watched the crazy ‘geodudes’ with their take on the Rock Cycle as seen by using sugar and other confectionery. Despite only being 2 mins long, this clip still manages to get in weathering and transportation of rock particles. Then the children looked at some of my rock samples to decide if they were sedimentary or igneous. (Metamorphic rocks are on my diagram of the rock cycle and I did mention them, but glossed over them somewhat.) This is always a popular activity and helps to bring the whole rock cycle out of the theoretical realm into the actual one.

We then made sedimentary rock models out of sand, water and plaster of Paris. We made them into layers and will test them out next week to see how they erode. Considering the potential for mess, the children were all brilliant and I am looking forward to the mess being contained next week too. (;-)) I hope they all enjoyed this.

The above took up a great deal of the time!! I wanted to show the Wednesday group an animation of the plates shifting over millions of years, but settled for a You Tube video of India colliding with Asia and the formation of the Himalayas. In the Friday group we also watched a simulation of the Himalayas being formed: 70 million years over 2 minutes.

Just to clarify, all the above fits in with our topic of “Changes to the Earth’s Surface” because the Earth’s crust and its geographical features are all made up of rock, and the rocks (although they may seem immutable) are always changing. Features get eroded, plates move around, mountains build up or break down, some plates are subsumed under other plates, new rock is created etc. The conversion of one type of rock into another is called the rock cycle, which I briefly showed to the children in the classes.

Next session we will have to test out our sedimentary rocks we made, and think about different forms of erosion and how humans can speed it up or slow it down. I might even get to finish talking about plate tectonics!

In the younger group, they have been thinking about measuring time and how we can date rocks and fossils. They had sand-timers and stopwatches and tried to work out how long each timer took. The Friday group seemed to have great fun timing each other running around. This is great – I don’t really mind deviations from what I have planned. It’s all learning, and if it is initiated by the children, so much the better. My Wednesday group did some wonderful drawings while the older children were busy with rocks and sand.

I talked to both sets of younger children about how scientists use radiometric dating to date rocks and fossils. The dating works if scientists know the half-life of a radioactive isotope, and what it decays into. They can then look at the relative proportions of the radioactive isotope and the final product. This is something we haven’t even covered with the older group! Please note, I didn’t actually mention the word isotope, just ‘element’, and we didn’t talk about ‘relative proportions’, so don’t worry too much that I’m overwhelming them. They didn’t seem overwhelmed.

We also looked at various events in the history of our solar system, from the formation of the sun to early rock art. The children tried to put the events in order on a timeline, and did a great job.

I am really enjoying these classes. All the children are all wonderful in their own individual ways, and I think the groups work together very well.

I invariably prepare too much material, but I would rather it be that way round than everyone twiddling their thumbs.

The Wednesday older group have in particular been very good at focussing for nearly the whole hour and a half. We generally only find the noise level creeping up towards the last 10 mins. I think this is great for a diverse group at this age and stage.