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Moon Phase Apparatus

Target Audience Key Stage 2

Link to the National Curriculum

Sc4 Physical Processes (The Earth and beyond)

Children should be taught:

  • that the Earth orbits the Sun once each year (365 and a quarter days) and that the moon takes approximately 28 days to orbit the Earth.


  • To enable children to understand that an easily made moon phase apparatus viewing box from waste materials represents an exciting way to enable them to see at first hand how the orbit of the moon around the Earth translates into eight phases over a period of a lunar month of 28 days(teacher’s worksheet download)

Download worksheet

What you need

  • Shoe box,
  • hollow rubber ball
  • length of dowel ( usually schools have this with their craft consumables, otherwise easily obtainable from any diy shop
  • stiff card
  • torch

What you do

  • See the video clip on the website: www.practicalprimaryscience.co.uk
  • Draw diagonal lines on the lid of the box
  • Also do the same for the other ends of the shoe box. Make a hole in the lid 4mm in diameter
  • Make a similar hole in the base of the box lined up exactly with that one in the lid
  • Fix four small feet at the base of the box, one in each corner (small squares of balsa wood are ideal)
  • Paint half of the hollow rubber ball white and the other half black ( children’s school paint is adequate)
  • Make a hole through the ball to allow a dowel rod to pass completely through with half of the ball, vertically aligned white and the other half black and fix the apparatus together…watch the video clip again!
  • Draw the eight moon phase numbers on the sheet of white paper attached to the lid and attach a cardboard arrow….again watch the video clip
  • Carefully set the dowel point in line with the ball inside the box to demonstrate the eight phases of the moon
  • Make a viewing hole centrally placed in one end of the box large enough to allow light in from a torch and make a much smaller viewing hole in the other end of the box. The torch light represents the sun light.
  • Switch on the torch and view while turning the arrow by one quarter turn at a time representing the eight phases of the moon. While darkness is not needed in the room , a slightly darkened area would help to the efficiency of this investigation.

Group /Class organisation

  • Depending on the number of adult helpers and apparatus available will determine how many groups of three / four children will take part in this practical activity.
  • If limited help is available then other children not involved directly in the practical activity should be engaged in associated work with the topic e.g. My journey to the moon!
  • Children should also be given individual observation sheets to complete relating to what they observe during the moon phase activity (see children’s download observation sheet)

How it works

  • As the dowel is rotated one phase at a time (one eighth of a turn) this simulates the rotation of the moon around the Earth that takes one lunar month or 28 days to complete.
  • The moon has no light of its own and as it rotates around the Earth, keeping its same face to the earth, light is reflected off the moon’s surface from the sun back to Earth.
  • The Sun remains stationary in the universe and in this investigation is represented by the torch.

Preliminary Activities

  • Watching any related video clip on space and in particular the orbits of the eight planets in our solar system arond the Sun

Follow up work

  • Find practical activities related to understanding how a Sundial works and then actually making one.
  • Fill in the prepared worksheet showing the eight pahases of the moon
  • Plan a visit to a planetarium: Spaceguard Centre in Knighton, Powys is one such resource well worth a visit.
  • Contact details: Tel 01547 520247
  • or mail@spaceguardcentre.com

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