Tech and Science

Schools across the US are taking advantage of the rare teaching opportunity presented by the 2024 solar eclipse

  • Schools in the path of totality use the total solar eclipse as a rare teaching opportunity.
  • Riverside School in Cleveland has created exciting activities such as crafts, games and dioramas to educate students about the solar eclipse.
  • Superintendent Thomas Simon has rearranged the school’s schedule to accommodate eclipse-related activities.

Seventh-grade student Henry Cohen skipped back and forth to the beat of the Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun” in teacher Nancy Morris’s classroom and swung his arms over the planets depicted on his T-shirt.

Henry and other classmates at Riverside School in Cleveland were on their feet and dancing during an activity session related to April’s total solar eclipse. Second-graders invited to the lesson sat cross-legged on the floor and laughed as they modeled newly decorated solar eclipse viewing glasses. Dioramas containing softball-sized models of earths and moons, as well as flashlight “suns,” sat on desks and shelves throughout the room.

Henry said his shirt reflected his love of space, which he described as “a cool secret.” The eclipse, he said, “is a one in a million chance and I’m glad I got to be there.”

SOLAR ECLIPSE 2024: WHERE AND HOW TO WATCH THE RARE SUBWAY IN THE US

For schools in or near the total path of the April 8 solar eclipse, the event inspired lessons in science, literacy and culture. Some schools also organize group viewings so students can experience the awe of the daytime darkness and learn together about the astronomy behind it.

school children

Alex Impion, 12, shines a flashlight on a model moon held by Necmeddin Aljabri, 8, at an elementary school in Cleveland on March 14, 2024. The two learned about the upcoming total solar eclipse, a topic that has challenged and inspired teachers in and around the path of the eclipse. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)

A hair’s breadth from the path of totality, the school system in Portville, New York, near the Pennsylvania line, plans to load its 500 seventh- through 12th-grade students onto buses and drive about 15 minutes into the path to an old horse barn overlooking a valley. There they can track the eclipse’s shadow, which arrives around 3:20 p.m. EST.

It was necessary to rearrange the hours of the school day to maintain instruction, but Superintendent Thomas Simon said staff didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn, especially at a time when students spend so much of life through screens experience.

For solar eclipse safety, drivers should not do the following during this rare event:

“We want them to leave here on this day feeling that they are a very small part of a pretty amazing planet that we live on and the world that we live in and that there are some really amazing things going on that we can experience in the natural world.” Simon said.

Schools in Cleveland and some other cities in the path of the eclipse will remain closed that day to keep students from being stuck on buses or in crowds that are expected. At Riverside, Morris developed a mix of crafts, games and models to teach and motivate her students in advance.

“They really didn’t realize what a big deal it was until we really started talking about it,” Morris said.

“Learning about lunar phases and eclipses is enshrined in every state’s science standards,” said Dennis Schatz, past president of the National Science Teaching Association. Some school systems have their own planetariums – relics of the 1960s space race – where students can attend educational shows about astronomy.

But there’s no better lesson than reality, said Schatz, who encourages educators to use the eclipse as “a teachable moment.”

Dallas science teachers Anita Orozco and Katherine Roberts plan to do just that at Lamplighter School and have the entire pre-K through fourth grade student body watching together outdoors. Teachers spent a Saturday in March at a teaching workshop at the University of Texas at Dallas where they were told that keeping students indoors would be “almost criminal.”

“We want our students to love science as much as we do,” Roberts said, “and we just want them to understand and also be in awe of how crazy this event is.”

It may be a challenge to argue with young children, Orozco said, but “we want it to be an event.”

When training future science teachers, University at Buffalo professor Noemi Waight encouraged her student teachers to consider how culture influences the way people experience a solar eclipse. Native Americans, for example, may view the total solar eclipse as something sacred, she said.

“It’s important for our teachers to understand this,” she said, “so that they can take all of these elements into account when teaching.”

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The State University of New York Brockport’s STEM Friends Club planned eclipse-related activities with fourth-grade students from teacher Christopher Albrecht’s class, hoping to pass on their passion for science, technology, engineering and math to younger students.

“I want to show students what’s possible,” said Allison Blum, 20, a physics major majoring in astrophysics. “You know about these big mainstream jobs, like astronaut, but you don’t really know what’s possible in the different fields.”

Albrecht sees his fourth-graders’ interest in the solar eclipse as an opportunity to integrate reading and writing skills into lessons – perhaps even to awaken a love of reading.

“This is a great opportunity to read a lot with them,” said Albrecht. He selected “What is a Solar Eclipse?” by Dana Meachen Rau and “A Few Beautiful Minutes” by Kate Allen Fox for his class at Hill Elementary School in Brockport, New York.

“It sparks their interest,” he said, “and their imagination at the same time.”

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