Moon Inquiry: Part 2 - Tracking the Moon and Sun

Junior (Age 9 – 12)

Curriculum Goal

STEM Skills and Connections: STEM Investigation and Communication Skills

  • Use a scientific research process and associated skills to conduct investigations
  • Communicate their findings, using science and technology vocabulary and formats that are appropriate for specific audiences and purposes

 Earth and Space Systems: Exploring and Understanding Concepts

  • Describe various effects of the relative positions and motions of Earth, the Moon, and the Sun


  • This is the second part of a sequenced Moon inquiry. This lesson is intended to be delivered after Part 1.
  • In the first lesson, students shared their initial understandings of the solar system and the Moon. They were told that for the remainder of the inquiry they will make nightly observations of the moon (and be given class time each morning to draw what they saw).
  • The steps for filling out the chart featured in this lesson will be repeated every day for the remainder of a 30-day lunar cycle. On subsequent days you may modify the introduction/conclusion seen here or omit them altogether if you need to streamline this process for the sake of time. As students get more familiar with the chart and website from which you are pulling the data, the time needed to complete this task will decrease.


  • Moon/Sun Tracking Chart – a large piece of chart paper, divided into eight columns with enough rows to track data about the moon and sun for a full 30-day lunar cycle (Figure 1). Column Titles:
    • Date
    • Moonrise
    • Moonset
    • Phase
    • Percentage illumination
    • Hours of daylight
    • Sunrise
    • Sunset
  • The chart paper used in Lesson One to record student theories about “If You Were the Moon”. This will be referred to as the “Theories Chart” in future lessons
  • Whiteboard and projector
  • Moon Phases Calendar website
  • Marker



  • Before students arrive, project the Moon Phases Calendar website so they can immediately draw what the moon looks like in their Moon Observation Journals.
    • Having the website projected provides all students with an opportunity to see what the moon looks like on that day in its cycle. While students can be encouraged to make their own observations every night, various considerations including weather, timing (the Moon is not always visible at night), and access to outdoor space can hinder students’ ability to complete the task.
  • Have students discuss with a neighbour or elbow-buddy about their experiences from their first night observing and drawing the Moon.
  • After they have shared with a partner, lead a full-class discussion. Ask:
    • When did you look at the moon?
    • Did you and your partner see the same thing?
    • What else can we learn about the moon by observing it? or What other observations can we make of the moon?
  • Encourage students to think beyond the observable shape of the Moon (which they may be familiar with already) to other aspects of the Moon and its movement:
  • Did everyone see the Moon in the same place in the sky?
  • Who saw the Moon close to the horizon and who saw it when it was high in the sky?
  • How large did the Moon appear to be?
  • Was it dark out when everyone observed the Moon or did some people see it during the daytime?
  • Tell the students we will begin to track some of the features they have identified.


  • Show the students the sheet of chart paper you will be using to chart the appearance of the moon (Figure 1). Read out the title of each column.
  • Project the moonrise and moonset tab from org so that all students can see it.
  • Ask students: What is the illumination of the moon?
    • Write the percentage on the chart in the row for your current date.Convert this percentage into a fraction out of 100 to help students understand that percentages can be represented as fractions.
  • Ask students: What do you think this number represents?
    • Students can offer their theories about what illumination of the moon means.
    • After students have shared their theories, tell (or confirm for) them that the Moon does not create its own light and, like the Earth, is only lit up when/where the Sun’s rays are hitting it. The “illumination” of the Moon refers to how much of the Moon’s surface is being hit by sunlight on that day.
  • Ask students: Is the moon up right now? Move the cursor along the time-lapse to visually demonstrate this.
    • The phase of the lunar cycle and the time of day this inquiry takes place will answer this question.  
    • This may also be the first time that students consider that the moon is visible both during the day and night depending on its phase. Extra time with students should be allocated here if necessary.
  • Ask students: When did the moon last set? Write the time on the chart in the row for your current date.
  • Ask students: When will the moon rise next? Write the time on the chart in the row for your current date.
  • To conclude the section about the moon, ask students: What phase is the moon currently in? Write the answer on the chart in the row for your current date.
  • Now pivot by clicking on the Sunrise and Sunset tab at the top of the page. 
  • Ask students: When did the sun rise? Write the time on the chart in the row for your current date.
  • Finally, ask students: When is the sun going to set? Write the time on the chart in the row for your current date.
  • Extend this observation by asking students how many hours the sun will be above the horizon today and recording that number on the chart.
  • Next, ask students to figure out how many hours the moon spent above the horizon (either overnight or during the day). Compare these two numbers, as well as the moonrise/sunrise and moonset/sunset hours. What do students notice about these numbers? Is the relationship between them what students were expecting to see?
    • Your students’ observations will depend on the stage of the current lunar cycle. At times, the sun and moon will both be above the horizon for many of the same hours. Students will observe a pattern for how the amount of daylight changes each day, but they may start to realize that they have questions about how many hours the moon spends above the horizon each day. If student inquiry suggests it, you might choose to add an additional column to your observations chart to track this data.


  • Let students know they will be filling out this chart as a class with you every day to build their data set.
  • Finish the lesson by asking students for any new questions or wonderings they have about the Moon now that they have begun to add data to the chart. Add those questions to the chart paper where you recorded the students’ theories about the meaning of the text/images in “If You Were the Moon.”
    • This paper acts as a space for the class to record their wonderings as students continue making observations over the next week. Students should begin to see they are finding answers for their questions and proving or disproving the theories they suggested earlier in the unit.

Look Fors

  • Do students understand what information about the Moon and Sun each column in the chart is referring to, and what the data they are collecting means? 
  • Are students using the data they are collecting to ask new questions and extend their inquiry?
  • Are students able to use the information already recorded on the chart to make informed predictions about when the Sun and/or Moon will rise and set?
  • Are students able to use the information already recorded on the chart to make informed predictions about how the Moon’s illumination may change over time?
  • Do students recognize a pattern in the changes between sunrise and sunset over time?

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