Eclipse bringing a whole universe of learning opportunities

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Kris Samick's fifth-grade class has gone a little crazy over the upcoming total solar eclipse.

Since Spencer Elementary School's first day last Tuesday, Samick's class has been hitting the subject of the eclipse just about every day.

Students have made models of the solar system to demonstrate what happens during an eclipse, putting a miniature moon between a tiny Earth and model sun. They have done research projects to find what parts of America will see the full eclipse, rather than the roughly 95-percent shadow locals in Spencer and Bloomington will experience. They then used that research to make to-scale maps to represent the "path of totality."

Because there are only nine school days between Spencer-Owen Community Schools' first day of class and the eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21, Samick said she wanted to hit the ground running. The eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21, will be the first total solar eclipse to cross the United States in her young students' lifetimes. The last total solar eclipse visible from the continental U.S. was in 1979.

In the eyes of educators around southern Indiana, which is tantalizingly close to the path of totality, it provides an irreplaceable educational opportunity for students to delve into a major celestial event happening in real-time.

"They are psyched about it," Samick said of her students, some of whom didn't understand what the eclipse was until their first class with her last week. "It just makes learning real to them. It's something pertinent."

Districts in and around Monroe County are building the eclipse into curriculum and making plans for Aug. 21, when the moon will begin its slow transit across the sun from 12:57 p.m. until 3:49 p.m. The Monroe County Community School Corp. and Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp. are both allowing secondary students to view the eclipse outside, with parent permission and through approved safety glasses.

"We're kind of trying to address that (the safety aspect) first, and then we can focus on the fun stuff," said Jaime Miller, a STEAM coach at R-BB. She and fellow STEAM coach Mandy Henry have been pushing resources to R-BB teachers to help them plan eclipse curriculum. They have directed teachers of younger students to livestream the eclipse. They have also encouraged classes to make do-it-yourself viewfinders and pinhole cameras so they can view the eclipse indirectly, and art projects to "represent the whole event in a visual way."

For the students who will view the eclipse outside on Aug. 21, Miller is encouraging outdoor activities like measuring shadows with sidewalk chalk during the eclipse and comparing them to the shadows that typically occur at that time of day.

"The big misconception is 'We're going to go watch the sun for three minutes, and that's it'," Miller said. But because the eclipse will last for about three hours, there are plenty of gradual changes for students to observe and learn from. She wants students to wonder: What do the plants do in this situation? What do the animals do? What other changes did you see as the sky went dark?

"We don't want them to just focus on seeing the eclipse itself and thinking that's all there is," she said.

Samick has a similar goal for her own classroom, which is why she is spending her classes digging into the causes of the eclipse. She has found a way to explore the eclipse through almost every subject, including through character development. She asks her students, "How can we do the right thing when we're looking at the eclipse?" Answers include sharing your solar glasses so others can look at the eclipse, and staying calm even when it gets dark.

If her students are on board, she's even hoping to get them involved with one of NASA's Citizen Science projects. NASA has asked civilians to observe and take careful notes on what they observe during the eclipse, especially the behavior of local wildlife, the weather during the eclipse and the change in temperature that comes with the moon's shadow. They can then submit those observations to a NASA database, giving them one more way to participate in real science during the eclipse.

If nothing else, she hopes the eclipse gets her students hooked on science in a way they never have before. It's a rare and exciting opportunity Indiana won't get again until 2024_the next solar eclipse_and she wants her students to enjoy every moment of it.

"They are so engaged and excited," she said. "I'm hoping I can get them to geek out like me."


Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times,


Information from: The Herald Times,

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