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Conflicting theories for the origin of the Moon Capability: Use evidence NoS achievement aims: Understanding about science Contextual strands: Planet Earth and beyond Level : 5

Nature of Science Teaching Activity -  Conflicting theories for the origin of the Moon

This resource illustrates how a Science Online activity can be adapted to provide opportunities for students to strengthen their capability to use evidence to support ideas in the context of science.  

Curriculum Aims and AOS

The Nature of Science strand


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Understanding about science

Students will learn about science as a knowledge system: the features of scientific knowledge and the processes by which it is developed; and learn about the ways in which the work of scientists interacts with society.


Understand that scientists’ investigations are informed by current scientific theories and aim to collect evidence that will be interpreted through processes of logical argument.

Investigating in science

Carry out science investigations using a variety of approaches: classifying and identifying, pattern seeking, exploring, investigating models, fair testing, making things, or developing systems.


Show an increasing awareness of the complexity of working scientifically, including recognition of multiple variables.

Planet Earth and Beyond


Achievement objectives relevant to this resource

Astronomical systems

Investigate and understand relationships between Earth, Moon, Sun, solar system, and other systems in the universe.


Investigate the conditions on the planets and their moons, and the factors affecting them.

Learning focus

Students experience the ambiguities that can be involved, and the importance of open-mindedness, when determining which evidence supports which claims. 

Learning activity

This Science Online activity already has a focus on working out which evidence supports which of four different theories about how the Moon originated. Students weigh up the evidence and then come to a conclusion about which theory is best supported by all the evidence currently available. A full set of instructions and student materials is provided on the website. 

Adapting the resource

The existing reflection questions are focused on challenges for scientists’ work. For some students this might be a first personal experience of dealing with the sorts of ambiguities that scientists often face. You could make this a more direct experience of how it feels to deal with conflicting theories/evidence by adapting the process as follows:

  • Assign small groups one theory only. Across the class, make sure each of the four theories has been distributed to about the same number of groups.
  • Tell the groups that it is their job to select from all the evidence those pieces that best support their assigned theory. They need to build a case to convince a group that will be defending a different theory.
  • Pair up groups for this second step when they are ready. Each group puts their case to the partner group. After that they decide between them which of their two theories is the more convincing and why.
  • Finally pool results across the class – one or two “leading” theories are likely to emerge at this stage but the class will still need to collectively decide between these. As this discussion unfolds, keep directing the focus to the need to find the best overall match between theory and evidence. [All theories can be supported by at least some of the evidence and the same evidence can support multiple theories.]

Once the discussion has been settled (ideally in favour of the theory that scientists do currently accept as most strongly supported by evidence!) help students reflect on their experience by posing questions such as the following:           

  • Does it feel easy or hard to acknowledge when a piece of evidence does not support a theory we thought might be true? [Confirmation bias is a well know phenomenon in which we tend to notice evidence that supports an idea and ignore evidence that does not.]
  • Does it feel easy or hard to acknowledge that one piece of evidence can plausibly support several theories? [Students typically learn to look for the “right” answer so this sort of open-minded acknowledgement of multiple possibilities can feel “wrong”.]

What’s important here?

Scientists need a lot of self-discipline to be open-minded when building new knowledge claims. Feelings of uncertainty need to be proactively managed, not brushed aside. Scientists need to be resilient and this is a useful learner quality for students to develop as well. Many socio-scientific issues do not have definitive answers, and the same evidence can be used to support different claims. Students need to learn what it feels like to weigh up competing claims, and to know that even when they do this, some uncertainties may remain and a “best judgement” call will need to be made. In this way students are supported to become scientifically literate, i.e., to participate as critical, informed, and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role. (This is the purpose of science in NZC.)

What are we looking for?

Can students identify and discuss what it feels like to manage uncertainty when the available evidence cannot as yet provide a definitive answer to a question?

Opportunities to learn at different curriculum levels

For suggestions about adapting tasks in ways that allow students to show progress in using evidence to support ideas see Progressions .

Exploring further

The capability 2 resource, Charged! MacDiarmid’s Electroplastic , explores confirmation bias from a different perspective.

Other resources for this capability

Key words

Astronomy, moon