Back to Volume
Paper: Using Time Zones and Celestial Navigation to Teach the Phases of the Moon
Volume: 443, Earth and Space Science: Making Connections in Education and Public Outreach
Page: 466
Authors: O'Donoghue, A.
Abstract: The phases of the moon are typically presented to introductory astronomy classes in a diagram showing the position of the moon, its appearance and elongation at each phase, and the time of each phase’s transit. Though wonderfully compact and efficient at conveying information, I have found it to be overwhelming to non-science major students. Much of their difficulty arises from their vague definition of time, which must be broadened for them to understand the different rising, transit, and setting times for the phases of the moon. Working with time zones helps them recognize that the time on their watch is relative to a particular longitude and the transit of the sun at that longitude. Celestial Navigation extends this to the transit of all celestial objects and helps them re-define “time of day” to a position on Earth relative to the Earth–Sun line in a practical way. Once they understand why a given object transits at the same time for all time zones, extending this to the moon is much simpler. My students are quickly able to identify the transit times of the various phases of the moon, and with some additional instruction, quickly learn how to figure out their rising and setting times as well. On this poster, I will include images from PowerPoint animations and the student exercises I use to help them understand the concepts. Though I have too small a sample for statistical analysis (24 students/semester), I have found that student scores on moon phase questions on exams have improved since I incorporated time zones and celestial navigation into my course.
Back to Volume