Crater Creations

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Biology In Elementary Schools is a Saint Michael's College student project from a course that ran between 2007 and 2010 and fully described in this book chapter. The student-created resources have been preserved here for posterity. Link under 'toolbox' for printer-friendly versions of the exercises. Click on handouts to print full resolution versions. Please see Wikieducator's disclaimer, our safety statement, and the Creative Commons licensing in English and in legalese.

Student worthiness

This activity is tried and trusted and the idea was taken from link: [1].

Primary biological content area covered

Astronomy: Layers of the Moon


  • Meter Sticks
  • Magnetic Marbles
  • Magnets
  • Rulers
  • Small Plastic Containers (Cat Litter Boxes)
  • Flour
  • Laundry Detergent
  • Glitter


This handout is mainly to organize the students' data and help with the math connection. (see Figure 6 in picture gallery)

Description of activity

This activity utilizes household item to demonstrate the impact of meteors on the moon’s surface. Students will create their own craters by dropping magnetic marbles into a plastic container layered with flour, detergent, and glitter. Students will learn about the different layers of the moon’s crust as demonstrated in the layering of materials in the container. Finally, students will measure the diameter of the craters and compare these measurements with the height at which the marble dropped the marble.

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Lesson plan

  1. Ask students... Have you ever heard of the man in the moon? (Explain that the “man in the moon” is visible when the moon is full and the reason why you can see the man’s face is because the craters look dark and high lands look light.)
  2. Next explain the layers of the moons crust using a poster or some other visual aid, stressing that the crust is made of layers. (Core, Crust, Lithospheric Mantle, Partially Molten Asthenosphere)
  3. Set plastic container in the center of the table. Explain that the layers of materials in the container represent the layers of the moons crust.
  4. Pass out rulers, marbles, pencils, and the handout (see handout heading).
  5. Next we will have the students figure out and mark on their t-chart the heights(in centimeters) that they plan to drop their marbles from.
  6. The students will each get a chance to drop two marbles into the "moon's crust." (Making sure that they are at the right dropping height and that the surface below is free of previous craters.)
  7. Then we will take the marbles out of the crust using a magnet. The marbles will be taken out one at a time to ensure that we know which marble was dropped from which height. As each marble is removed, the students will take turns measuring the diameter of the crater with the ruler provided and marking the data on their t-chart.
  8. Once all of the data is collected, the students will convert their chart into a graph using the handout shown above.

Potential pitfalls

  • If the marbles are thrown into the container not only will it make a mess but also skew the results.
  • If the craters overlap then it will be difficult to procure the necessary data.

Math connections

Students will be asked to fill in the chart that compares the height that they dropped the marble from and the diameter of the crater made. After the students have done their measurements they will be asked to graph their results so that they can visually see the comparison between the heights of the drop and the diameters of the crater.

Literature connections

There is a book called When the Moon is Full: A Lunar Year by Penny Pollock. It is a story about Native American traditions and how the 12 moons made up their lunar year. This book could tie into the lesson by showing how the moon was once an important part of telling time, and it also talks about the phases of the moon and how they were once thought to be different moons.

Connections to educational standards

In this lesson students will be fulfilling some of the Vermont Educational Standards.

  • 7.7: Geometric and Measurement Concepts-Students use geometric and measurement concept. This will be evident when students are measuring the height that they drop the marbles from and the diameters of the craters.
  • 7.15: Theories, Systems, and Forces- Students demonstrate understanding of the earth and its environment, the solar system, and the universe in terms of the systems that characterize them, the forces that affect and shape them over time, and the theories that currently explain their evolution. This will be evident when the students are taught about the moon, and the different layers that make up the moon's mass. The students will be able to see the some of the layers of the moon exemplified in the basin with the laundry detergent, flour, and glitter.

Next steps

This lesson can be used within a unit about space to help students to understand the significance of planet-moon relationship. This lesson can also be used as a bridge into further exploration of the moon and its cycles, properties, and importance to Earth. Teachers can also use the math aspect of this lesson as an opportunity to teach about the Metric System, T-charts, and graphs.


Overall, this activity ran smoothly. Students seemed to understand the concept of layers and had tons of fun dropping the marbles into the containers. Students also grasped how to measure using the metric system well and were able to translate their data into graphs. The students brought prior knowledge about the moon and some of its properties, which aided in the overall learning of the students. I found that the poster was particularly helpful to our lesson because we were able to reference it while explaining the layers of materials that we were working with. A visual aid is definitely a "must do" for this activity because not only is it helpful for the educator but it also caters to the visual learners and ESL students, giving them a picture to help explain the concepts.

However, we did find that the size of the marbles seem to have an impact on the size of the crater made. Students were dropping smaller marbles at higher heights, yet the data showed that the larger marbles dropped at lower heights had larger craters. This could be potentially confusing for some students when it comes to graphing the data especially if it is a young group of students. I would suggest that when doing this lesson marbles of the same size are used unless the effects of the size of the marble can be incorporated into the lesson.

This was a well worth it activity to do with the students and we left feeling accomplished about our lesson. One thought to stretch the math portion of the lesson would be to explain graphs and talk about the results with the students. Because of lack of time, we were not able to analyze our results but I feel that it would have been beneficial to do so.

Picture Gallery

Citations and links

1.Impact Crater Activity

Crash Landing Activity

Vermont Educational Standards