Local scientists team up to prepare BVSD teachers for the ‘Great American Eclipse’
Training offered by Fiske Planetarium & National Solar Observatory addresses safety concerns, misconceptions & encourages cross-curricular learning during astronomical event
BOULDER – Leading up to Monday’s solar eclipse, a group of Boulder Valley School District teachers had the opportunity to learn about the astronomical event directly from experts in the field, so they can share that knowledge with their students.
During a three-part workshop, that started on August 10, scientists from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) in Boulder and the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium are providing educators with a refresher on the science behind the natural phenomenon, as well as discussion on possible instructional methods.
“We’ve had a range of teachers, from science to non-science and first-grade through high school,” explained Briana Ingermann, the Education Programs Manager at the Fiske Planetarium. “We’ve provided them with a robust background in the content. What is an eclipse? Why don’t they happen all the time? Then we’ve provided the teachers with activities they can do in their classrooms.”
“Overall, they were very enthusiastic and full of great questions. They were very excited to have this momentous event happening,” said Dr. Claire Raftery, head of Education and Public Outreach at National Solar Observatory. “A lot of them were grateful to have the opportunity to come up with a real strategy to get students out of the classroom.”
An event of this magnitude has the capability to capture the attention of every student.
“It is estimated that it will be the most-watched eclipse in all of history, because of the location, convenience. So many Americans have the capability to commute to see this event,” Ingermann said.
The workshop helps to provide teachers with the information needed so they can confidently and safely lead students outside to view the eclipse.
“It is a great teaching moment. It is an opportunity to put astronomy into a real-world context,” Raferty added. “Astronomy and science can sometimes be far-fetched, esoteric or difficult for students to grasp. This is something that is very, very real. It is something that people get to experience, not only with their eyes, but it is a physical thing. There are changes even in how the air feels.”
READ MORE: Eclipse offers Boulder Valley students an opportunity to engage in real-life science
During the course, they work to help teachers understand the importance of taking safety precautions during the eclipse;
“It is good that people are cautious about looking at the sun – because you should be. If you have the proper tools, solar glasses or a pinhole camera or another way to view the eclipse safely, then there is no need to be worried,” explained Ingermann.
The class, however, also aims at combating misconceptions that spread prior to an eclipse, including fears about the dangers of radiation during the event.
“You can understand why someone would think this during an eclipse, because it is a surreal experience. If you are in the path of totality, you see the outer atmosphere of the sun, the corona. It looks like radiation, streamers coming away from the sun,” Ingermann said. “It is the same radiation you are getting every single day, just happens to be that the moon is blocking out a good portion of the radiation that you normally receive.”
Participating teachers have been encouraged to reach out to other educators in their building, especially those that might be a bit hesitant to incorporate the eclipse into their classroom. Raftery and Ingermann say an eclipse opens opportunities for cross-curricular learning, far beyond science.
“Art is the first thing that jumps to mind. It is such a visual experience,” Raftery said.
“We have been trying to make this broad accessibility, in terms of how can you develop this whole set of activities around the eclipse,” Ingermann said. “How can this apply in your classroom, even if you’re not in a science classroom? How have eclipses been important in history or culture? How can you do art projects around the eclipse, math problems?”
The hope is that the eclipse sparks learning for days, if not weeks.
“Hopefully this entire experience will have a positive impact on the students in their ability to question the world around them, pay attention to nature and be invested in their world,” Ingermann said.
During the next workshop, teachers will have the opportunity to learn about the moon, including the importance of its phases, orbit and the relevance of gravity. The final class will focus on the sun, opening lessons in the electromagnetic spectrum, space weather and solar storms.