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4 Tips for Awesome Eclipse Teaching

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With only five days until the total solar eclipse that will carve right through America's heartland, I've been poring through online resources looking for how to make curriculum for the Aug. 21 event the best it can be. Here are four themes that have emerged from a lot of Googling!

1. Safety first! If you're planning to have your kids outside to watch the eclipse and record their observations and questions, remember above all that they have to have proper protective eyeglasses. Online retailer Amazon.com already alerted some puchasers of the safety glasses off of its website that it can't confirm they were properly manufactured. Check your email box to make sure you aren't one of them.

2. There are some amazing eclipse resources out here already from some trusted websites and partners, such as PBS' LearningMedia, NASA, and the American Astromical Society. Many of them have activity suggestions as well as great videos that trace the path of the eclipse or help students grasp the relative positions of sun and moon, the path of the eclipse, and the mathematics that underpin how often eclipses happen. 

If your district doesn't have Chromebooks or a one-to-one computing program to best make use of some of the cool videos, you needn't get super sophisticated: Use styrofoam balls and light bulbs so that students can model the phenomena for themselves.

3. For those teachers who are just beginning to teach the Next Generation Science Standards, the eclipse is a great opportunity to get your feet wet on NGSS practices. Those standards, adopted in about 17 states and the District of Columbia as well as by many school districts on their own, puts a heavier emphasis on the process of scientific inquiry—how scientists make hypotheses and test them using data and observation.

The eclipse is a perfect  "anchoring phenomenon" around which to organize a series of questions for students to investigate, record observations (if you'll be outside for the eclipse), and to write conclusions about later. Some of those questions could include: 

  • How often does a solar eclipse occur? 
  • The sun is 400X larger than the moon how can the moon block out the much larger sun? 
  • How is a lunar eclipse different than a solar eclipse and why are they more common? 
  • Why aren't total solar eclipses visible to every location on earth?

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific has a great resource that structures teaching about the eclipse as a series of investigations that build on one another.

4. Make connections to broader units and lessons. Don't view this as a one-and-done kind of thing. Your eclipse curriculum doesn't have to stand alone: Some of the core ideas that emerge in teaching about the eclipse apply to other meterological phenomena, like the seasons and the phases of the moon, which also depend on the position of sun, moon, and the Earth, and how they interact with each other.

Middle-school performance expectations for the NGSS make these connections clear, asking students to be able to "develop and use a model of the Earth-sun-moon system to describe the cyclic patterns of lunar phases, eclipses of the sun and moon, and seasons."

Enjoy, and be sure to tell us what your and your students learned.

Photo credit: Andrew Napier/Flickr Creative Commons

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