STEM Lesson Planning

Alissa Lange - Laura Robertson - Jamie Price and Annie Craven

Earth and space science is the study of earth materials and space. In grades K-12 (NGSS) it focuses on a wide range of Earth and space concepts and includes: the universe and its stars, Earth and the solar system, the history of planet Earth, Earth materials and systems, plate tectonics and large-scale system interactions, the role of water in Earth’s surface processes, weather and climate, biogeology, natural resources, natural hazards, humans impact on earth systems, and global climate change (NGSS, 2013, Earth Space Science Progression). For early childhood and elementary learners, these core disciplinary ideas can include:

  • Observational patterns and characteristics of the sun, moon, and stars
  • Earth’s orbit and rotation
  • Exploring how time and events have occurred on Earth
  • Wind, water, ice, rainfall, gravity, rocks, and erosion
  • Earthquakes and volcanoes
  • Maps that indicated water and land
  • Weather and weather patterns
  • Natural resources & natural hazards
  • Humans impact on the environment

Applicable to the discussion here are the integrated STEM opportunities and links between engineering, technology, mathematics, and space science. Students can explore scientific discoveries on Earth and in space, investigate tools and machines (like microscopes, satellites, rockets, rovers on Mars, and computers) and explore the interconnected areas of spaceflight and space exploration. Students can engage in the stories and lives of diverse people represented in STEM careers, spaceflight, and space history. With a renewed focus on human spaceflight currently underway, students will likely experience in their lifetime a return to the Moon (estimated 2024) and perhaps a human landing on Mars (estimated 2040). Helpful resources for teachers and students can be easily found on the website and some relevant resources with excellent visual images and engagement opportunities for students are listed below

1st grade- The Moon

Earth and Space Science

Author- Adapted from the Unit Plan created by Elizabeth Schock, 2019.

NGSS Earth and Space Science

1.ESS1.1: “Use observations or models of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted”


This unit involves a 2-week exploration of the moon and its pattern. Students will discover the pattern that is happening by observing the moon each night at home (just so they can see it clearly, but make sure that they know the moon is sometimes visible during the day too!) and recording what it looks like in their moon calendar. They will also discuss what they saw in the classroom each morning and complete several different activities that allow them to explore what is happening to the moon to cause that pattern. One activity completed will involve students working in pairs to create a life-size model of how the moon’s pattern changes as the Earth revolves around the Sun by using their bodies, a Styrofoam ball, and a flashlight. By the end of the unit, students should be able to identify the pattern and correctly identify the different phases of the moon.


Engage. Teachers will begin this unit by showing students Google Moon. This is an interactive model of the moon that uses satellite images and allows users to interact with the moon and displays Apollo landing sites. As the class explores the surface of the moon, teachers will ask students to describe what they are seeing and discuss NASA and their research. Students will take home a family letter and a moon calendar journal. The letter will explain the unit as well as the calendar. Learners will observe the moon each night at home and draw what they see. Each morning at school, the class will discuss what they saw and then create a large model which they will hang in a line so they can track the changes they are seeing.

Explore. On another day, students’ will begin their exploration of the moon. First, the class will read Max and the Tag-Along Moon. There will also be a discussion about where the moon gets its light from. Teachers will then provide flashlights and a Styrofoam ball covered in aluminum to students so they can investigate where the light comes from. This activity allows students to discover new information about the moon while also sharing their ideas about what is happening.

Explain. The next day, teachers will play the Pattern song from GoNoodle. The class will discuss the pattern of the moon and if they have any predictions about what will happen over the next two weeks. Through the class discussion, students will be able to use their prior knowledge to make predictions and discuss their new understandings of the pattern the moon follows. The teacher will provide students with vocabulary for the different phases of the moon and discuss how the moon changes throughout each month.

Elaborate. On this day, students will experiment with what causes the pattern they see with the moon. Students will look back at their moon models they have been creating based on their home journals and then discuss the pattern that is emerging. Teachers will prompt students by asking if the moon looks the same each night and asking them to record what they think causes this in their science journal. Students will work in pairs and be given a Styrofoam attached to a wooden dowel (the Moon) and a flashlight (the Sun). One learner will be the Earth and hold the moon and the other will be the sun. They will take turns and investigate what causes the pattern they are seeing each night. They will record their findings in science journals and then they will discuss their findings as a group. Through this activity, students will discover new information about the pattern in the moon which extends their current understanding of the moon.

Evaluate. The teacher will assess students’ learning in two different ways. First, students will create a model of the pattern they have seen in the moon over the last two weeks using Oreos and use correct vocabulary when labeling the different phases. The next day, the class will create an anchor chart depicting all the different phases. They will also discuss what they think will happen over the next 14 days. Teachers will present students with 8 flashcards of the moon and ask them to put the cards in the correct order. Teachers will photograph the students’ work and then complete a checklist to see if students were able to order the cards sequentially. These activities provide teachers with multiple ways to see if students can demonstrate what they have learned through the unit.

Ideas for Other Explorations

  • For more space science ideas, see the OER on Astronomy for Educators, by Daniel Barth
  • Engineering a shade for sand box, melted chocolate, earth materials?
  • Clouds and telling time – 3rd
  • Flower pictographs,
  • Weather/climate and graphing (CUAI), grade 3rd or 5th


Lange, Alissa A.; Robertson, Laura; Price, Jamie; and Craven, Amie. 2021. Teaching Early and Elementary STEM. Johnson City: East Tennessee State University.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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Elementary Science Methods Copyright © 2023 by Alissa Lange - Laura Robertson - Jamie Price and Annie Craven is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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