Emmy’s Moon and Stars and Where Are The Stars?

Page Keeley, Francis Eberle, Joyce Tugel
Type Category
Assessment Materials
Assessment Item
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This is a formative assessment probe designed to elicit student ideas about the relative positions of objects seen in the sky.  Students observe a picture of a person viewing the night sky and wonder about the distance of the moon and stars.  This probe offers five claims including four common misconceptions held by students as choices for distances between the objects that Emmy sees in the night sky.  After students make a choice, they then justify their choice with reasoning by explaining their thinking.  This reveals much more information that can be used to guide instruction. The information contained in the teacher notes assists in curriculum and lesson planning.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 5
  • High School
  • Middle School
  • Elementary School
Access Restrictions

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Performance Expectations

5-ESS1-1 Support an argument that differences in the apparent brightness of the sun compared to other stars is due to their relative distances from the Earth.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to relative distances, not sizes, of stars. Assessment does not include other factors that affect apparent brightness (such as stellar masses, age, stage).

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
It is common for students and even adults to describe stars as being dispersed throughout the solar system. The understanding of relative distances of the moon, sun and other stars from Earth is a foundation to understanding that the sun is much brighter than other stars because it is closer to Earth. In this assessment, the teacher gains information about student ideas that can inform instruction.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
This is a two tiered assessment that requires students to justify their choice of an answer to the situation posed. As an alternative to the paper/pencil method, the assessment probe can be used with a number of formative assessment techniques to assess student understanding. For instance, students can be paired or assemble in small groups composed of students with different ideas to discuss and defend their choice. This allows the teacher to listen to their ideas while walking through the classroom keeping all students engaged in discussion. Or students could use sticky notes to graph their choice and the teacher could group students with differing ideas to discuss the reasoning behind their choice.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This probe is explicitly assessing whether or not students understand that our solar system has one star and that star is not between Earth and the moon. If that is so, then the other stars that we observe in the night sky must be farther from us than the sun. Therefore brightness is affected by distance. This is an assessment, but the teaching notes suggest that ideas about light be developed to assist students in developing understanding of this idea. They should experience that a large light source viewed at a distance seems like a smaller light source much closer. The teacher could facilitate a hands-on activity that addresses this in instruction.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This probe addresses the concept of distance rather than size of the objects. Understanding both relative size and distance are necessary when developing concepts in astronomy. The teacher notes in this probe point out that students have a great deal of difficulty with large magnitudes. Models are used in instructing astronomy concepts to make the concepts of actual size and distance more accessible. They help provide a sense of size and distance of objects that are not are not easily observed. It is suggested that teachers begin teaching scale with the most familiar objects like the moon and sun first and then expand it to objects that are further away such as planets and stars.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This formative assessment has the potential to address all three dimensions if the suggestions made are followed. Students justify their choice of a claim.

  • Instructional Supports: The instructional supports provided by this resource include the following: Purpose, Related Concepts, Explanation, Curricular and Instructional Considerations, National Science Education Standards, Benchmarks for Science Literacy, Related Research, Suggestions for Instruction and Assessment as well as related NSTA Store Publications and NSTA Journal Articles. While it is an assessment, the Curricular and Instructional Considerations as well as the Suggestions for Instruction and Assessment are very helpful in planning instruction based on the results when given to students.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The resource is a formative assessment that can be used to elicit students’ ideas about distance of objects seen in the sky. If used before instruction, dependent on student choice, the teacher is able to identify students’ ideas about where stars are in relation to Earth and the moon. This resource could also be used as a post assessment letting the teacher know if instruction was effective.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This has no technological component to rate.