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Phases of the Moon: Collaborating Towards Deeper Understanding

Middle School Science Teacher Dan Bobrowski
As a science department, we’ve committed to visiting each other's classrooms to see our subject at a range of age levels. My inspiration for this lesson came from a visit to Preethi’s astronomy elective. While sitting in that class, I was struck by the fact that Preethi's juniors and seniors were investigating, albeit on a different plane of academic challenge and rigor, topics similar to the one's my fifth grade students were exploring. Preethi and I connected over this alignment of topics and decided that we should leverage this overlap into a unique learning opportunity for both sets of students.
Preethi and I did some back-and-forth scheduling to make sure our classes could be in the same place at the same time, both physically and from the perspective of our respective curricula. We chose a topic that we thought would lend itself to a collaboration across age differences - the phases of the moon. I then worked on planning an activity where high schoolers and fifth graders could mutually benefit from hands-on inquiry. After a quick stop to the grocery store for paper plates and Oreos, we were ready to go.
The class started with all students working in small groups to figure out how to physically arrange a Styrofoam moon model in relation to the Earth and the Sun so that they could show the position and appearance of each moon phase. fifth graders and high schoolers alike helped each other with the positioning and naming of the phases. This continued until each student had the opportunity to manipulate the Styrofoam models to recreate the moon’s phases.
Each group received a paper plate and a stack of Oreos. They worked together to draw a diagram showing the Earth, Sun, and 8 moon positions on the plate. With opened-faced Oreos, the modified the filling so that they had 8 sides that showed the phases of the moon.
We then watched an engaging BrainPop video (a fun little throwback for the high schoolers) that helped students to synthesize the positions and names for each of the phases.
For the fifth grade, they will be taking this information and adding it to a creative writing piece they are completing in science class. Playfully referred to as the “Hydrogen Story” by the fifth graders, this piece challenges students to explain how the universe was formed from the perspective of one of the atoms that came out of the Big Bang. We have reached the portion of our story where our solar system is forming and they are currently explaining how the Sun, Earth, and Moon have regular and predictable motions that cause phenomenon for the life on Earth. This collaboration with Preethi's high school students helped to reinforce the fifth grader's learning and allowed them connect with their high school peers in the context of academic inquiry and investigation. 
Little Red School House
and Elisabeth Irwin High School

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