Science Projects Involving the Sun Moon and Earth for Elementary School Students

The elementary science teacher can incorporate intriguing, educational projects into his/her curriculum to create a solid scientific foundation concerning the sun, moon, and earth in our universe. With more than just worksheets and textbooks, the following lab ideas can better engrave knowledge and prepare the elementary student for higher-level learning on these three corporeal masses.

Truth in Myths:
Legends have been told for generations concerning the sun, moon, and their relationship to the earth. To the Eskimos, sister sun and brother moon were once real siblings on earth; as sister sun was being chased by mean brother moon, each carried a lighted torch. Brother moon fell down and almost extinguished his light, but it still glowed faintly. They were lifted up into the sky where brother moon still chases his sister across the sky with his dimmed light.

According to the article, “Multicultural Science Education: Myths, Legends, and Moon Phases,” by Andrea B. Freed, “In an effort to meet the requirements laid out by the National Science Education Standards (NSES, 1996), teachers need to recognize and respond to student diversity and encourage all students to fully participate in science learning.” The following science project is a thorough means of incorporating multicultural literature into the science curriculum.

After learning about the different lunar cycles, students can read “The Story of Annigan,” the Eskimo Inuit myth summarized above. Then, in groups, students can make a Venn diagram, comparing and contrasting the myth’s statements about the moon with corresponding scientific knowledge. For example, the moon doesn’t actually emit light, but reflects the sun’s light. To further incorporate language arts into the lesson, students can write their own myths about the moon, using scientific facts to back up their stories. The class can then share their moon myths.

The Moon’s Position to the Sun and Earth:
The different moon phases have everything to do with its relative position to the sun and earth. An interactive lab for elementary students involves a light bulb (the sun), two to three Styrofoam balls (about three inches in diameter), and an open space for the class to rotate. The light bulb should be secured to the ceiling or a stand. First, turn on the “sun” and turn off the other lights. Explain to the students that the light is the sun and their heads are the earth, their noses are the exact location of their school on the planet. As student’s face the “sun” directly, explain that this is noon at the school; rotating their backs to the light is midnight. Working in groups, the students can now use a Styrofoam ball as the “moon.” Holding the ball away from and above the head, the students can figure out which position is needed for the eight moon phases:

1. New Moon: the student sees the shadowed side of the moon, between the sun and the earth.
2. Waxing Crescent: a backward “C” will appear on the moon.
3. First Quarter: the right side of the moon facing the earth is lit.
4. Waxing Gibbous: transition between first quarter and full moon, more of the moon is lit.
5. Full Moon: the earth is between the moon and the sun (moon is above the earth), the lit side of the moon is now entirely seen.
6. Waning Gibbous: transitioning from a full moon to last quarter, less of the moon is lit.
7. Last Quarter: the left side of the moon facing the earth is lit.
8. Waning Crescent: transitioning from a last quarter to a new moon, a “C” of light is visible on the left half of the moon.

An eclipse can also be demonstrated by placing the earth in between the sun and the moon. After all the rotating with Styrofoam balls, the students can look at real pictures of each phase of the moon.

Tides and the Moon, Sun, and Earth:
The ocean tides are directly controlled by gravitational pulls between the moon, sun, and earth. The moon draws the ocean toward it, at the location on earth closest to the revolving moon, while the opposite side of the planet experiences a pull away from the moon. During a “tidal period” (about every 24 hours and 50 minutes), there are two high tides (tidal crests) and two low tides (tidal troughs). The sun, when in line with the earth and moon, causes an even greater pull, resulting in greater high tides and lesser low tides, or namely “spring tides.” When the sun, moon, and earth are at right angles in positioning to each other, “neap tides” are created. Neap tides consist of lower high tides and higher low tides.

With the teacher’s guidance, the students can complete a worksheet found at Select five students to demonstrate the tides to the class: one earth, one moon, one sun, and two forces of gravity (nametags stating “sun,” “moon,” etc… can be given to these students so confusion doesn’t occur). Hook two safety pins with string tied onto them to the front and back of “earth’s” shirt (or the oceans). Ask the students to show a “neap tide,” the sun and moon must stand in a perpendicular, right angle formation to the earth with the earth facing the moon. The two “gravity” students can now pull gently on the strings, one toward the moon, one away. Ask the class: where on earth is there a high and low tide right now? To demonstrate a “spring tide,” the moon must stand between the sun and the earth. The two gravity students will pull again on the strings, toward and away from the moon. Again, where are the high and low tides on the earth?

The above projects are a few of many engaging labs available for elementary students in an introduction to the interdependence of the sun, moon, and earth. With a basic understanding of this topic, future lessons on seasons, weather, temperature, astronomy, and the ocean can be addressed. So what’s the big deal about our sun and moon in relation to the earth? The elementary student should be able to leave the classroom, knowing how crucial the different cycles and effects of these three structures are upon life on earth.


Andrea B. Freed, New Horizons for Learning,

“Tides and Lunar Cycles,” Sites Alive Foundation,