Generating Questions About the Sun and Moon

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Sun/Earth/Moon System Phenomena

Student-generated questions set the stage for intrinsically motivated student exploration. This class models the process of inquiry to frame questions, to generate ideas, and to explore, with the intent of developing scientific knowledge and understanding. After watching the sky for several weeks, for example, the students generate questions about the sun and/or the moon that they can explore through more systematic observation. Once small groups have framed their questions in class, they make predictions and agree on plans for group members to observe at particular times in particular ways over the coming days. In time, students make inferences about the “answers” to their questions by pulling the pieces together, by discussing, and by making continued predictions and observations.

Typical Questions:

Typically the small groups generate questions that suggest they have been surprised to see the moon during the day and that it seems to move:

How does the moon seem to move throughout the day?

  • Students would need to make several hourly observations.

How does the moon seem to move over the course of several days?

  • Students would need to make several observations at the same time over multiple days.

Examples of Student-Generated Questions

Near the end of the term, the students write a paper about their exploration of the phases of the moon. Included is a reflection about generating questions to explore:

Does the moon rise and set just like the sun? How does the moon move across the sky in a 24-hour period?
Questions About the Moon
During small group discussions, my table desparately wanted to answer the question “Does the moon rise and set just like the sun?” In order to find clues to the answer we sought, the four of us determined a schedule to observe the moon periodically every afternoon and night in one hour intervals. After the experiment, we discovered that although the moon did rise and set like the sun, it was changing its rising and setting times throughout the month.
Not only did we answer our question with these observations, but we also made several other observations including the relationship between the angles of the sun in accordance with the moon and the fact that when the moon is waxing the sun is on the right side while the opposite is true for a waning moon.

How will the shape of the moon change over the next week? What will the next phase of the moon be?

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