Many students think that the phases of the Moon are caused by the Earth casting a shadow on the Moon

Earth and Space


Resources to address this

  • Phases of the Moon  (11-14)

    Ref - SPT ES04 PN07

    he Moon's appearance changes in a regular way, moving through a sequence of phases in one lunar month.

    The Moon orbits the Earth once every 27.3 days. This means that its position relative to someone standing on the Earth at midnight will change over the course of a month. The phases of the Moon are caused by the changing position of the Moon relative to the Sun and to an observer on the Earth.

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  • The moon - our nearest neighbour  (5-11)

    Ref - HS03 PN05

    The reason for the shape of the Moon changing periodically, going through its different phases is tricky and widely misunderstood. This is not caused by the Moon being in the shadow of the Earth. It is caused by where the Moon is in relation to the Sun and the Earth and so how you see the Sunlight reflecting off the Moon. It really is best not to try to explain this to primary children. There is more on the phases of the moon in the SPT: Earth in space topic.

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The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Phillips, W., () Earth science misconceptions, The Science Teacher,


    Paper digest

  • Baxter, J., () Children's understanding of familiar astronomical events, International Journal of Science Education, 11 (5)


    Key paper digest

  • Barnett, M. and Morran, J., () Addressing children's alternative frameworks of the Moon's phases and eclipses, International Journal of Science Education, 24 (8)


    Paper digest

  • Abell, S., Martini, M. and George, M., () 'That's what scientists have to do': Preservice elementary teachers' conceptions of the nature of science during a moon investigation, International Journal of Science Education, 23 (11)


    Paper digest

  • Barrier, R. M., () Astronomical Misconceptions, The Physics Teacher, 48,


    Paper digest

  • Trundle, K.C., Atwood, R.K. and Christopher, J.E. () Preservice Elementary Teachers’ Conceptions of Moon Phases before and after Instruction, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39 (7)


    Key paper digest

  • Galano, S. et al. () Developing the use of visual representations to explain basic astronomy phenomena, Physical review education research, 14, (1):010145.

    Key paper digest

  • Sharp, J. G., () Children's astronomical beliefs: a preliminary study of Year 6 children in south‐west England, International Journal of Science Education, 18 (6)


    Key paper digest

  • Slater, E. V., Morris, J. E., & McKinnon, D., () Astronomy alternative conceptions in preadolescent students in Western Australia, International Journal of Science Education, 40 (17)


  • Trumper, R., () A cross-age study of junior high school students conceptions of basic astronomy concepts, International Journal of Science Education, 23 (11)

    1111- 1123.

    Key paper digest

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