Solar Eclipse- Part 1

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SWBAT understand what a solar eclipse is and how one occurs.

Big Idea

By creating and using pinhole viewers, students will get an opportunity to observe a partial solar eclipse while it is happening.

Lesson Overview- 5E Lesson Planning

5 minutes

 5E Lesson Planning:

I plan most of my science lessons using the BSCS 5E Lesson Model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.For a quick overview of the model, take a look at this video.

I use this lesson model because it peaks the students' interest in the beginning during the "Engage" portion and allows for the students to actively participate in the investigations throughout the subsequent steps. The “Evaluate” component of the 5E Lesson Model can be used in many ways by the teacher and by the students.

A great resource for lesson plan frameworks and explanations is the Community Resources for Science.The 5E Lesson Planning Template and 5E Lesson Planning Prompts come from this website. 

Unit Overview:

In this Unit students will learn about the solar system by studying the sun, the moon, planets and stars. In the first three lessons the students will learn about the Sun. Lessons 4 through 7 focus on the movement of the Earth around the Sun. Lessons 8 and 9 are lessons about Orreries, lessons 10 and 11 cover solar eclipses, lessons 12 and 13 are about the moon, lesson 14 discusses the other planets in the Solar System, and the last 4 lessons (15-18) are about stars and constellations.  

Lesson Overview:

This lesson gives the students an opportunity to observe one of the exciting phenomenon that occurs in our Solar System. They create pinhole viewers to observe a solar eclipse and they learn about what causes this. 

The materials needed for this lesson are as follows:

  • 2 pieces of card stock per partnership
  • small square of aluminum foil (I gave the students a square that would cover their cutout.
  • scissors
  • tape
  • small pin 

Next Generation Science Standards:

This lesson does not cover a specific performane expectation of the NGSS, but it provide a background for the following standard:


Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky.

Disciplinary Core Ideas:  

This lesson aligns to the Disciplinary Core Ideas from the Earth and Space Science:

ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System. The Earth’s orbit and rotation around the Sun,and the orbit of the moon around the Earth cause observable patterns. 

Crosscutting Concepts:


  • Similarities and differences in patterns can be used to sort, classify, communicate and analyze simple rates of change for natural phenomena. (5-ESS1-2)

Cause and Effect

  • Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. A major activity of science is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. 


5 minutes

I love it when a teachable moment presents itself. It just so happened that  a partial solar eclipse was happening during our Solar System unit, so I decided to have my students check it out.

We have been learning about the solar system for the last few weeks and have a good understanding of the planets, the sun, and the distances of the planets from the sun and each other. We have also been talking about the sizes of each of the planets we have been comparing the size of the earth to the sun and we have been learning about the way the Earth moves around the sun. This opportunity to view and learn about the eclipse is a great way for the students to connect what they have been learning to something they can observe.

I start this lesson by showing my students the video from Nasa's ScienceCasts' You Tube channel.The students then ask some questions about the eclipse and I invite them to go look at it.

The questions they ask include: Will it get dark? Why can't we look directly at the sun when we go out to look at the eclipse? How will we look at it? Will it get colder? I write these questions and others on the board as unanswered questions. I use the Depth and Complexity prompt from Dr. Sandra Kaplan to give the students a visual cue for thinking. Here is anExplanation of Depth and Complexity Prompts.



30 minutes

The exploration part of this lesson is done in 3 parts.

First, we discuss the safety of looking at eclipse by reading an article on Nasa website together. I project this article on my whiteboard and I have a few students read parts of the article out loud. We talk about why it's important to not look directly at the Sun at any time and that the best way to observe the eclipse is by using pinhole viewers. I want the students to make sure that they are being safe during all of our sun activities and this was a good time to remind them again.

Second, we make pinhole viewers to take outside to try to view the eclipse.

We use the following materials to create the pinhole viewers:

2 pieces of card stock, scissors, 1 small square of aluminum foil, scotch tape, and a paperclip or pin.

To create the viewer the students fold one of their pieces of card stock in half (many students debate whether they should fold their papers like hot dogs or hamburgers or burritos and I explain to them that it won't affect how the pinhole viewer works, so any direction of the fold is fine) and then cut a small square from the center of the paper. Next, they unfold the paper and tape a small square of foil over the their cut out card stock. Finally they poke a small hole in the center of the foil. See the link above for photos and directions.

Finally, we go outside to use our pinhole viewers to safely view the eclipse and to see if there are other ways to view the eclipse. Some students use their fingers to create a waffle pattern and could see the shadow of the eclipse. We also try to explore under some trees to see if the leaves create any crescent shadows on the ground.

Here's a 5th Grader using pinhole viewer for partial solar eclipse and a student doing a Finger Eclipse Viewer. Another student using a Pinhole viewer for partial solar eclipse and another photo of partial eclipse viewing.









10 minutes

After we take some time to look through our pinhole viewers (about 15 to 20 minutes), we come back into the classroom and I have the students draw their observations in their Science Notebook. This is a photo of a student drawing of the pinhole viewer. Since we were only able to see the beginning of the eclipse, I tell the students to take their pinhole viewers with them so they could view the eclipse at its peak that day- around 3:30 pm. Our school dismisses at 2:40pm and the eclipse started at 2pm.

We also talk with our table groups about the experience outside and how the pinhole viewers work. I use a strategy called "Productive Partnering" that is adapted from Kate Kinsella's work. This is the Productive Partnering Poster. We use what are called the 4 Ls- Look, Lean, Listen and Lower. Students must look at each other when they are speaking, lean towards their partner, listen to their partners, and lower their voices when they are speaking to each other.

I ask them to talk about what they observed when they used the pinhole viewers or their fingers when they were viewing the eclipse. I tell them that they could use what they wrote in their Science Notebooks to help guide their discussion.They do this with their shoulder partner and I gave each person 1 minute to talk.



20 minutes

I give the fifth graders an article to read about eclipses so that they can have a better understanding of them. I tell them to write notes in the margin or use annotation on the article.

My students have had a lot of practice with taking notes and using annotation. I use this Annotation Poster to guide the students and to remind them on how to take notes and annotate an article. This poster is based on the work of Tracy Watanabe. She has a lot of great information on Close reading and how to read complex text. Here is an example of a Student annotation and a second example of student annotation. In the next lesson we will use our notes from the article to write a summary paragraph.

This article was measured at 840 lexile level which is appropriate for this grade level. 

For my students who might have a difficult time reading the article, I give them a copy of a shorter article to read. 





5 minutes

The evaluation portion of this lesson is done throughout the lesson. I do informal observations as we complete the solar eclipse investigation and while the students talk about their experience with the pinhole viewers.

As we observe the eclipse, I listen to the students as they are exploring. Several students realize that their viewers aren't working because the holes they made in the foil were too big. They also adjust the distances that they held the pinhole viewers when they realize that they could get a better projection. I also look at their science notebooks afterwards to see what their drawings depict to make sure that they understood the task. 

Solar Eclipse Part 2 includes a summative assessment of the activity.