Using the Moon as a Tool for Discovery-Oriented Learning
To excite students about the scientific approach to viewing the natural world, we use laboratory exercises that rely on personal observation, data collection, interpretation, and model development. In the laboratory exercise described here, which is suitable for introductory earth science courses, students are asked to (1) test the hypothesis that the moon revolves east to west around the earth, (2) determine by observation approximately how many degrees the moon revolves per night, and (3) develop a scale model of the earth-sun-moon system that can be used by students to demonstrate the causes of the phases of the moon. Although this exercise can be frustrating for students at first, we have found that, given time, carefully managed discussion, and the opportunity to interact with others in the laboratory group, most students develop a good understanding of the earth-sun-moon system and, more importantly, benefit by arriving at the knowledge through self-directed and group-assisted observation and reasoning. We believe self-discovery is the most important component of this process. There are certain advantages to using the moon, including its familiarity (which makes it easier to generate student interest), its accessibility (assuming cooperative weather), and the relative ease with which required astronomical measurements can be made.