The solar eclipse is an important event for many reasons. This is the first eclipse to transverse the continental United States in almost 100 years. Furthermore, this phenomenon allows educators to inspire and engage students in astronomy in a way that is unprecedented. Students will be able to take what they learn and directly observe an extremely rare event. If we are able to use the eclipse to our advantage, we will be able to inspire students to have a lifelong passion for science.

Designing activities

The following are suggestions for creating activities for students.

Developing activities

In order to create an activity, we first need to break down a concept into its fundamental ideas that are logical and sizeable enough to be explained on their own. For example, an eclipse can be broken down into:

The moon orbiting the Earth

The Earth orbiting the sun

The moon has an inclined orbit

The moon is small, while the sun is extremely large

Building up concepts

Once the concept of the solar eclipse is broken down, we can start to build it back up with correct concepts.

The eclipse is a great opportunity to inspire students with the wonders of nature. With this event, educators can teach students about a rare astrophysical phenomenon, and students will be able to experience the awe that comes along with science in a firsthand experience. In order to build up correct ideas of phenomena, we have to look at common misconceptions and questions. Answering these questions and pointing out how there is friction between reality and the misconceptions is key in building up a correct picture of the phenomenon we are trying to teach. Common questions include:

Why isn't there a solar eclipse every month?

How can something so small, like the moon, cover up something so big, like the sun?

Activities as a working model of the concept

The idea of creating activities is to provide students with a working model of the concept being taught. It is best to use common experiences to build up the model. For example, to explain why only some people can see a total solar eclipse, you can use the analogy of sitting in a movie theater and someone tall sitting in front of you, which causes you not to be able to see anything. However, if you lean over a little bit, you can see a portion of the movie screen.

Activities illustrate how science is conducted

Activities should give students an idea of how science is conducted on a daily basis. This means that the activity should be motivated by a question. Then, students should be permitted to work in groups where they will be able to discuss ideas and concepts among one another.

Sample activities

NASA Eclipse Simulation: How can the little moon hide the giant sun? This hands-on activity explores how distance can affect the way we perceive the size of an object.

NASA Wavelength: A full spectrum of NASA resources for Earth and space science education.

NASA’s Eclipse in a Different Light: This Sun-Earth Day page is committed to providing educators with the essential materials needed to help students see our sun in a different light.

Bob Miller’s Light Walk: Artist Bob Miller's "Light Walk" at the Exploratorium is always an eye-opening experience for students and teachers alike. His unique discoveries will change the way you look at light, shadow and images.