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July 27, 2017

The Solar Eclipse Classroom Activities

By Angela Bunyi
Grades 1–2, 3–5

    I am sure you have heard of the upcoming total solar eclipse. This, however, is not just another supermoon-type incident that you happen to see in your social media scroll and forget about. According to NASA, a total solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, totally blocking the sun. This event is seriously significant and many teachers will be back in school when we experience the solar eclipse on Monday, August 21.

    My district paired up with our partner university, Middle Tennessee State University, for teacher trainings. Read on for my notes and learnings, including some activities you can try with your students.

    Fun Solar Eclipse Facts

    -Syzygy means a three-body alignment. (Keep that in your back pocket the next time you play Scrabble!)

    -The eclipse will happen on August 21 and take a path that lasts approximately 90 minutes as it moves across the United States.

    - Only a small portion of the United States will experience a full eclipse (those in the path), but those out of the path will still be able to have a partial eclipse viewing

    - It will last one to two minutes in total. It will be pitch black, so crickets may begin to chirp and animals will begin to react.

    -If you live in Tennessee, the last visible solar eclipse was in 1478. This was before Christopher Columbus made his famous sail, the “Mona Lisa” was painted, and Romeo and Juliet was written!

    -The next solar eclipse will be 2024.

    The Work Has Been Done for You Already!

    A preview of some of the resource links prepared with a busy teacher in mind.

    The professors from Middle Tennessee State University, who are also astronomers and physicists, came together to create a rich resource website geared for teachers and students. They put a lot of effort into it and it is well worth digging into. The site includes safe viewing tips, friendly PowerPoint presentations, a countdown clock, video, and several pertinent links including one that will take you to information about the eclipse from NASA. Our district is very fortunate to have such a close tie with the University. They will also be offering free viewing glasses for each student in our district that will allow us to safely view the eclipse.

    The goal is to make this a memorable experience for teachers and students alike. There is also a full set of lesson plans for the week of the eclipse that you can use in your classroom. It should be completed and ready for download during the early summer.

    Grasping the Size and Distance of the Earth, Moon, and Sun

    When the professors said their goal was to make the upcoming eclipse exciting, they followed through on that promise. Here are a few of the tangible openers they used to help students grasp how an eclipse works.

    The first thing the professors did was ask us to investigate a variety of balls used on the playground to gauge the size of the earth, moon, and sun. Which ball represents the earth best? The moon? The sun? The closest to accuracy would be a baseball representing the moon and a basketball for the earth. The sun was a bit of a trick question. Many said a beach ball. In actuality, it would take 1 million basketballs to fill the space of the sun!

    The next thing they asked us to do was to have us guess the distance between the earth and the moon. To show the distance on a smaller scale, they started by having two balls touch and moved them further and further apart. The professors asked us to raise our hands when we thought they should stop. I was one of the teachers that kept it rather close. I raised my hand when they got about 10 feet away. In reality, it would be more than double that, at 24 feet away. That’s going to get you across your entire classroom. However, asking us how far the distance from the earth to the sun was became the real shocker. The sun would be the distance of a basketball court away from the earth.

    This is the perfect time to pull out the flashlight, as the professors did, to show the significance in the light shining on the moon and earth they orbit. This will help students understand why such a small path will witness a full solar eclipse. Students have a misconception that only a portion of the moon is lit OR that the moon itself is lit up. It is always half lit by the sun. The activity helps students understand this and witness it.

    For more celestial activities that will work for different grades, see my blog post from several years ago, “Teaching Moon Phases.”

     

    Questions/Comments
    How is your district or school preparing for this to be a memorable experience for your students? I’d love to hear your ideas as we gear up for August 21.

    I am sure you have heard of the upcoming total solar eclipse. This, however, is not just another supermoon-type incident that you happen to see in your social media scroll and forget about. According to NASA, a total solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, totally blocking the sun. This event is seriously significant and many teachers will be back in school when we experience the solar eclipse on Monday, August 21.

    My district paired up with our partner university, Middle Tennessee State University, for teacher trainings. Read on for my notes and learnings, including some activities you can try with your students.

    Fun Solar Eclipse Facts

    -Syzygy means a three-body alignment. (Keep that in your back pocket the next time you play Scrabble!)

    -The eclipse will happen on August 21 and take a path that lasts approximately 90 minutes as it moves across the United States.

    - Only a small portion of the United States will experience a full eclipse (those in the path), but those out of the path will still be able to have a partial eclipse viewing

    - It will last one to two minutes in total. It will be pitch black, so crickets may begin to chirp and animals will begin to react.

    -If you live in Tennessee, the last visible solar eclipse was in 1478. This was before Christopher Columbus made his famous sail, the “Mona Lisa” was painted, and Romeo and Juliet was written!

    -The next solar eclipse will be 2024.

    The Work Has Been Done for You Already!

    A preview of some of the resource links prepared with a busy teacher in mind.

    The professors from Middle Tennessee State University, who are also astronomers and physicists, came together to create a rich resource website geared for teachers and students. They put a lot of effort into it and it is well worth digging into. The site includes safe viewing tips, friendly PowerPoint presentations, a countdown clock, video, and several pertinent links including one that will take you to information about the eclipse from NASA. Our district is very fortunate to have such a close tie with the University. They will also be offering free viewing glasses for each student in our district that will allow us to safely view the eclipse.

    The goal is to make this a memorable experience for teachers and students alike. There is also a full set of lesson plans for the week of the eclipse that you can use in your classroom. It should be completed and ready for download during the early summer.

    Grasping the Size and Distance of the Earth, Moon, and Sun

    When the professors said their goal was to make the upcoming eclipse exciting, they followed through on that promise. Here are a few of the tangible openers they used to help students grasp how an eclipse works.

    The first thing the professors did was ask us to investigate a variety of balls used on the playground to gauge the size of the earth, moon, and sun. Which ball represents the earth best? The moon? The sun? The closest to accuracy would be a baseball representing the moon and a basketball for the earth. The sun was a bit of a trick question. Many said a beach ball. In actuality, it would take 1 million basketballs to fill the space of the sun!

    The next thing they asked us to do was to have us guess the distance between the earth and the moon. To show the distance on a smaller scale, they started by having two balls touch and moved them further and further apart. The professors asked us to raise our hands when we thought they should stop. I was one of the teachers that kept it rather close. I raised my hand when they got about 10 feet away. In reality, it would be more than double that, at 24 feet away. That’s going to get you across your entire classroom. However, asking us how far the distance from the earth to the sun was became the real shocker. The sun would be the distance of a basketball court away from the earth.

    This is the perfect time to pull out the flashlight, as the professors did, to show the significance in the light shining on the moon and earth they orbit. This will help students understand why such a small path will witness a full solar eclipse. Students have a misconception that only a portion of the moon is lit OR that the moon itself is lit up. It is always half lit by the sun. The activity helps students understand this and witness it.

    For more celestial activities that will work for different grades, see my blog post from several years ago, “Teaching Moon Phases.”

     

    Questions/Comments
    How is your district or school preparing for this to be a memorable experience for your students? I’d love to hear your ideas as we gear up for August 21.

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