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Advanced Moon Project

Author: Ann Bykerk-Kauffman. Department Of Geological and Environmental Sciences, California State University, Chico
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This material was originally created for On the Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.


The moon project is a semester-long research project about the moon; each student explores one of four assigned topics. Over 1-2 months, students make daily naked-eye observations of the moon and construct graphs of given data that will help them discover the concepts relevant to their topic. After working through a topic-specific guided-discovery activity, each student uses that activity to teach his/her topic to three students who had explored the other topics.

Learning Goals

Through this project, students discover many ways in which the motion of the moon affects its appearance from our rotating, revolving, tilted Earth. Thus they develop an especially deep comprehension of one essential scientific concept that few people understand, but that anyone could come to understand, even with a minimal scientific background. Along the way, students...

The specific questions that students seek to answer in this project are...

Topic #1: Moon Rise and Set

Topic #2: Angle of Tilt of the Moon

Topic #3: Length of the Moon "Day

Topic #4: Synodic and Sidereal Months

Context for Use

This semester-long project has been extensively tested, revised and retested for more than 15 years in the Concepts in Earth and Space Science course for future teachers at California State University, Chico. The in-class portions of the project, including a one-hour introduction, take about 7 hours to complete. We assign the month-long data-collection, and graphing phase of this project to be completed before students receive any formal instruction in astronomy. However, before students can discover and fully develop the answers to their topic questions, they must first have a solid understanding of Earth's seasons and the phases of the moon. Our students achieve this understanding primarily by completing the following guided-discovery activities:

Description and Teaching Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

This project is very challenging for non-science majors. They tend to get frustrated and anxious. Thus they require a great deal of coaching and encouragement. However, once they have completed the project, most students experience a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. They know more about the phases of the moon than most scientists do and they are proud of it!


As the culmination of the project, students are required to write (and illustrate) comprehensive answers to their topic questions. An additional objective assessment that we use to assess whether the students have achieved an in-depth understanding of the phases of the moon is the 20-question Lunar Phases Concept Inventory, developed by the Physics, Astronomy, and Chemistry Education Research Group (PACER) at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

References and Resources

Bykerk-Kauffman, A., 2008, The moon project: Student research and lesson design in an introductory geoscience course for pre-service teachers: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 56, no. 5.

For more information on the Jigsaw teaching method, visit the Pedagogy in Action jigsaw teaching method module.

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