A is for Astronomy!

We are renewing our commitment to Astronomy, as we begin our 2012-2013 school year!  We had started over the summer, then switched to Botany, and then got sidetracked with vacation, and some very cool Nature Study, and since it was summer, and we were learning, well, I relaxed.  (Gasp!)

So now we are picking up where we left off with Apologia’s Young Explorer text on Astronomy, with a chapter on the moon.  This worked out beautifully for me to plan a few projects that will meet another goal which is to clearly tie together the moon and the tides.  We live on a tidal estuary river in Southern Virginia.  Our river drains into the Elizabeth River which drains into the Chesapeake Bay.  We see the tides everyday.  So with the goal of know-your-own-backyard that we’ve developed through Nature Study, it makes sense to have a solid understanding of the connection between tides and the moon phases.

Jeannie Fulbright’s Astronomy text has the best illustration for the phases of the moon that I’ve seen, and provides a great launching pad for our studies!  And to make sure the knowledge is locked into place,  we use the companion Astronomy Notebook Journal which provides enrichment ideas, vocabulary study, mini-booklets for visual organization, space for writing and sketching.  In addition, we will complete nightly (daily in some phases) moon observation forms, and track the tides for about a month.  Long enough to get enough data to compare and draw conclusions.  Yep.  That is the goal anyway!

Moon Observation Form. Darken the circle to show what portion of the always round moon is illuminated by the sun, and then note the date and time, and any other information. It’s been cloudy at the Garner’s!

For those who are on a budget, or looking for a few hands-on activities to augment your study of the night sky, here are a few tools that I found in the public domain that might help you study the moon!  I like these Moon Observation Forms.  There is plenty of room to sketch in the moon as you see it, and to make notes on the side.  If you are delight-directed you’ll have a chuckle at the section in the instructions where the writer advises teachers to not answer questions on the cause of the phases.  Ahem.   Here is a smaller chart (all on one page) from the National Science Teachers Association, that you can print out.  The US Naval Observatory helps us out with an online  Moon Rise/Set Table.   Simply plug in your location, and voila, a chart for the year!  There are actually several charts available including Sun Rise and Set.

Nifty spinner shows the motion of the moon around the earth, and how the sun affects how the moon appears from earth. Also shows the effect of moon and sun on tides.

The National Weather Service has an interesting Spring or Neap Tide Spinner (or wheel) that you can print out in white or black, cut out, and put together with a brad.  It does a great job of illustrating the effect of the moon and sun on the tides, as well as explaining the angle of the light from the sun and the phases of the moon.  You might be sure to explain that it is not to scale!  The earth would be larger, the sun would be farther away.   I found this in the NWS JetStream Learning section, which has a lot to offer if your child is a weather-hound like mine!

You can check your own moon observations with this online visual Moon Phase Calendar from Moon Connection.  I really like the clever little Moon Dial from Fairfax County PS Planetarium, which might be fun for hands-on learners, or those who are tired of relying on computers! It is another spinner project, that calculates the current phase of the moon by counting days from the most recent new moon.  The total number of days since the last new moon corresponds on the dial with the current moon phase. 

Moon Dial (Spinner) that calculates the phase of the moon from last new moon, and where and when to find the moon in the sky.

Next you determine the time of day you plan to observe the moon and turn the dial so that your observation time shows through the window at the bottom.  Then find your phase (number of days since the last new moon, with corresponding image of moon) on the dial (it will have moved), and it will now indicate directionally where in the sky to look for the moon at that time of day.   Very cool!

Unfortunately, the provided New Moon Calendar has very old dates on it.  You can supply the new moon dates yourself from the US Naval Observatory site, or from a standard calendar, if it includes new moon dates (a black circle).  September’s new moon is Saturday, September 16th.  October’s new moon is Monday, October 15th.  At this posting in early September, we worked with our last new moon, August 17th 2012 and it worked beautifully!   A great indicator of how reliably God has fashioned the heavens!

Finally, there is a chart included on this Observing the Moon  4 page PDF download from the University of Texas in Austin that provides a general schedule of daytime moon sighting by phase, and has a lovely diagram of the moon with the primary maria labeled.  Really helpful!   We will be sketching our side of the moon in our nature journals.  Wikipedia has a more complete listing of the seas, but I plan to start by sketching just the primary moon features, and the ones names after astronomers!

If you are fuzzy on the moon’s phases, take a look at these very easy to grasp posts that explain each phase at EarthSky!  If you’ve ever been confused about the moon phase and the tides, here is a great post on that topic, by Deborah Byrd, also on EarthSky.

GraceNotes  loves the Apologia Young Explorer series, “because they believe in  God.”   I wonder if (committed) Christian parents with kids in government schools truly understand how conflicting it is for children to learn God’s truth at church; and then something utterly opposite at school, by trusted adults, with whom they actually spend more time than their parents.   It was astonishing to me when I first started this homeschool adventure,  to realize that she had picked up on the anti-God bias in her school texts, and how troubling it was to her.  I love that our science learning is on the same page with our Creator God these days!

We will be moving on to Mars in a week, even as we continue to track the moon, and tides.  So we’re looking forward to following the Curiosity Mars Rover!   

I’ll close with this fun fact from Exploring Creation website by Todd Elder,

“The earth, moon, and sun have a unique size and distance relationship that is unknown anywhere else in the universe. The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun and 400 times closer. This gives both an apparent size of 1/2 of an angular degree in the sky. It is this condition which allows for the moon to eclipse the sun so precisely.”

Don’t you love that “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, and night after night they display knowledge!?”  Psalm 19:1-2

This post is part of the ABC’s of Homeschooling link up at The Momma Knows, Blogging through the Alphabet blog link up from Marcy at Ben and Me, and the Apologia Science Blog Link Up!  One of the most rewarding aspects of homeschooling is the tremendous sense of community, and the support and encouragement shared!    


9 thoughts on “A is for Astronomy!

  1. Thanks for sharing all those great links! We are studying classical astronomy this year (Signs and Seasons is our text) but many of those printables and resources will be helpful.

  2. Awesome post! My 10yo is going to be using Jeannie’s Astronomy book this year. I’m going to bookmark your site so I can come back and use all those links!

  3. Oh, thank you! My girls have always been fascinated by astronomy and they regularly comment on the phase of the moon or constellations they’re currently observing.

    Tides, though, are a mystery to us… we’re definitely printing out the tide wheel! Great resource.

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