Celebrate Space!: Moon Phases, Rocket Ships, and Sunspot Cookies

“You sound like a teacher!” My mom laughed over the phone while I waited on the Jefferson Park blue line stop platform for my train home. It was almost 9:30pm on a Friday and my Lyft from Skokie Public Library had pulled away a few minutes ago. My mom was on vacation with my sister and aunt and she wanted to know what my plans were for the weekend.

Truth be told, I almost felt like a teacher when I explained I’d be spending the night putting the finishing touches on my station project outlining the eight phases of the Moon for SPL’s Celebrate Space program the following day. I had the poster-making skills of a teacher, but couldn’t help feeling a little less qualified than one after having spent a couple hours trying to actually learn about the Moon on NASA’s website. I just knew one of the kids at the library would end up asking me a question I didn’t know the answer to or school me on one of my trivia questions, so I was already practicing my “Let’s look that up.” response.

One of the first lessons I learned from Laurel while shadowing and training to lead Challenge Accepted sessions in the BOOMbox was to not panic when I don’t know the answer to a patron’s question. The more I think about it, that’s a lesson I learn when I shadow on almost any desk: don’t panic. It’s impossible to know everything and there’s no reason librarians should be expected to when one of our jobs is to utilize resources in order to provide the best possible answers to patron questions. I remembered that training while I cut out my Moon trivia flash cards; if someone asks me a question I can’t answer tomorrow, I’ll look it up. I’ve been lucky enough to witness nearly everyone on the YA crew do so seamlessly at least once, pulling out a phone or logging onto a computer in the Lounge and Zone to answer someone’s question. So far, none of the teens have thought less of us for it. I placed the last little cut-out star on my poster and admired the final product. If nothing else, the materials were ready.

I got to the library early on Saturday so I could set my station up and still have time to give my partner a tour of the space. It was raining that day and I felt grateful for the protection of my partner’s car; nearly everything I carried in was made of paper. My station was situated between the study rooms in the youth services area, so I pushed the two tables together to make room for a display and crafting space before picking up the clay Amy ordered for me. My station asked kids to recreate the eight different phases of the Moon using clay and bottle caps like cookie cutters. As they crafted, I would ask them the five following Moon trivia questions, expanding on the answers after everyone had a turn to guess:

  1. What is the average distance in kilometers the Moon travels to orbit Earth? The Moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 382,400 kilometers.
  2. How many days does it take to go from one new Moon to the next? In other words, how long is the lunar month? The lunar month is 29.53 days.
  3. How many times does the Moon circle Earth in the course of a month? During the course of a month, the Moon circles once around the Earth.
  4. Why can we see the Moon? We only see the Moon because sunlight reflects back to us from its surface.
  5. During the lunar month, why does the amount of the Moon we can see change? The half of the Moon facing the Sun is always lit, but the lit side does not always face the Earth. As the Moon circles the Earth, the amount of the lit side of the Moon we see changes and these changes are known as phases of the Moon. 

It made more sense logistically for participants to keep their recreated clay phases at the station rather than take them home, so I created a take-home activity worksheet that helps track the shape of the visible Moon over the course of a week instead. Hopefully watching the Moon closely for seven days will help kids understand how the phases change.

Moon Tracker

My first two participants were elementary school-aged sisters and they were very enthusiastic about making the phases and answering my questions. Because they were the only two there, I was able to have a lot of good one-on-one time talking to them about the project and what they did for Halloween. They told me all about pranks they like to play on each other at home and they were excited to take a worksheet once they were done with the clay. A question I ended up getting more than once was whether participants should bring the worksheet back to the library once they’re done filling it out; I told everyone I’d love to see their completed work.

After the two sisters I started getting larger groups of kids participating at a time. At one point I had so many that they outnumbered the work stations I had available and one or two left to come back later once the crowd thinned out. I tried to clear more space up by taping my Moon phase poster board up on the wall, but I need to remember to over-anticipate interest next time I plan a program.

Overall, the crowd I received was primarily elementary school aged and everyone seemed excited to show me their clay models as they made them. There was a good mix of kids who utilized the bottle caps to create Moons and those who free styled their own. One girl had a great time showing me bigger and bigger Moons as she squished more clay flat between her hands. A couple kids even came over just to show me the stuff they made at other stations. Unfortunately one of the kids couldn’t really understand the project and his mother explained to me that he didn’t speak English. She translated my instructions as best as she could, but he ended up being too shy to stay for long.

About half way through the program, there was a brief lull in participants and my partner jokingly pointed out that the only question kids struggled to answer was the one about distance. He realized before me that most kids didn’t understand what a kilometer was, but they did understand miles so we quickly converted the answer and rewrote the question. After that, kids more easily guessed numbers without asking me to explain what the question meant.

After the lull, a group of four middle schoolers came to the station and started messing around. I was already familiar with them through working the Junior High Zone and pretty quickly had to ask them to leave the station for throwing clay. They ended up renting one of the study rooms nearby and kept loudly coming in and out, disrupting the kids trying to participate in the program. At one point, one of the boys stuck his head out of the study room and told me, jokingly, that he was being bullied by one of the other kids. I had a free moment and took the opportunity to go into the room and ask them what was going on. One of the boys showed me his phone and it turns out three of them were mad at the fourth in the group for making an incredibly mean comment under a YouTube video. I sat down and asked him why he’d say something like that to someone and he tried brushing it off, explaining it was online so it didn’t matter. The other three boys disagreed, saying he was being an internet bully and mentioning people killed themselves over hurtful comments like the one he made. I agreed with them and tried to have a longer talk about it, but more kids started arriving at my station and I had to leave them alone again after a few moments. The kid who made the mean comment wouldn’t look up at us from his phone and eventually stopped answering, but I think he was embarrassed about being called out for his bad behavior. I’m glad his friends understood how inappropriate internet bullying is; hopefully he’ll follow their lead.

After the middle schoolers left, I received very manageable groups of kids. There were about four participating at a time until the program ended and the kids who stayed long enough to hear me repeat the trivia questions to new participants became very excited about already knowing the answers. It became a joke that they had to keep quiet and let new people try to guess.

Eventually it was 4pm and kids stopped coming over, so I packed up my station and headed home. I had a ton of leftover activity worksheets, so I displayed them at the Youth Services Desk where anyone could come up and take one. I left my poster board with the librarians at the desk too thinking it might be useful displayed in the BOOMbox. At the end of the day I was tired, but incredibly satisfied with my station’s success. Almost all of the kids who stopped by took a worksheet even if they didn’t participate with the clay, parents and guardians seemed to have fun helping their kids make the Moons, participants got excited about guessing the answers for my trivia questions, and I got a ton of great experience planning and facilitating library programs. The only thing I wish I had done differently was take more pictures.

Before I left, I talked briefly with Bill about participating in a future horror-themed program. It seems like I’m going to need to stockpile more poster board before my practicum is over.


One thought on “Celebrate Space!: Moon Phases, Rocket Ships, and Sunspot Cookies

  1. Wow, thanks for such a great summary of your experience with Celebrate Space! It sounds like it was such a great learning experience for you as well as those who stopped by your station. Thanks for being a part of the program!

    Liked by 1 person

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