This post was written by Amara Alexander, the 2019-20 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the Library of Congress.
Introducing learners to astronomy and the changing models within the solar system is often a highlight of the year. Students discover the relationship between the Sun-Earth-Moon system and other celestial bodies in the Milky Way. Engage students with this fanciful illustration of The Moon, and then compare it to an actual image of the moon.
Allow students time to observe the image – students might benefit from focusing on the image segment by segment, and then have a conversation about certain sections of the illustration. For example, What phase of the moon is featured? What instruments are astronomers using to view the night sky? What do you notice about some of the characters in the picture? There are fictional and factual items depicted in the artpiece. Lead students to create a T-chart with the title Fact vs. Fiction. Prompt students to identify their observations and record their thinking on the graphic organizer. Take time to examine students’ thinking and allow for discussion about students’ factual and fictional misconceptions about the moon, gleaned from the primary source.
Show this actual image of the moon to introduce the phases of the moon to learners. How does it compare to the illustration? If time allows, provide students with a moonlike model to replicate the phases of the moon. Position the light source in the middle of the room and at quarter intervals rotate students in a circle. At each step, students moons will reflect a phase of the moon. To review, students may create a comic representing the phases of the moon, or they can replicate the phases using cookies filled with cream.
The Moon drawing also details the planet Saturn and has multiple illustrations of the stars in the sky. Use this as a launching pad to discuss the names of the planets and the order in which they appear from the Sun. Students can create a pocket solar system or generate their own diagram of the solar system. Bridge the lesson to examine the different types of stars, the life cycle of a star, the names of constellations and/or famous stars associated with those star patterns. To connect English language arts with science, discuss figurative language with a focus on similes and metaphors. Have students research similes and metaphors related to the moon. Encourage students to create their own artwork that represents a simile or metaphor related to the moon or space.
This image gives students an interdisciplinary experience while focusing on space. Students may be inspired to continue their own research of the moon. Explore the Understanding Cosmos: Changing Models of the Solar System and the Universe to add other primary sources to your unit.
What other celestial bodies dwell in the night sky? Planets, moons, stars and more that have yet been discovered. How do you explore the moon?