Solar Eclipse Lesson for 8/21/2017

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Students will be able to observe a solar eclipse in the United States on August 21, 2017

Big Idea

Get ready for August 21, 2017 - solar eclipse will be observed in the US.

NGSS Background

This lesson is based on California's Middle School Integrated Model of NGSS.

MS-ESS1-1 Earth's Place in the Universe

PE: MS-ESS1-3 Analyze and Interpret data to determine scale properties of objects in the Solar System.

DCI: ESS1.B Earth and the Solar System - The Solar System consists of the Sun and a collection of objects including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the Sun by its gravitational pull on them.

SEP: (2) Developing and Using Models - Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms. Students will be able to use Lunar Lollipops to create solar eclipse in the classroom, providing a concrete mechanism for how an event of this magnitude can occur. 

CCC: (1) Patterns -Solar eclipses are predictable phenomenon that can be easily conveyed to students and provide an opportunity for them to make and record direct observations of a solar eclipse.

This lesson is designed around a future, once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse that is due to hot the continental United States on August 21, 2017. It is predicted to begin off the coast of Oregon/Washington and sweep across the country ending off the coast of South Carolina/George. Most of the US would be in prime viewing of a total or partial eclipse. This event will occur on a Monday during school hours (8:40am on the west coast/12:40pm on the east coast). Many schools are now in session during August and this presents itself as a excellent school activity.

This lesson accompanies another lesson I do called Lunar Lollipops. All the student work are based on my teachings about solar eclipses. Specific proposed lesson will be completed for the 8/21/2017 event.

Resources for the Solar Eclipse

This video fills you in on preparing for the Solar Eclipse as a teaching experience. I go through some of those activities in the next section.


Solar Eclipse Resources

Time and - August 21, 2017: Total Solar Eclipse - Simulated view of the solar eclipse. Option to see what the solar eclipse would look like in your city. Best place to start.

Great American Eclipse of 2017 - Excellent video showing the path the solar eclipse will take across the United States.

EclipseWise - Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 Aug 21  - Great visual of the path of the eclipse.

Mr Eclipse - Solar Eclipse for Beginners - Visuals explaining the geometry of a solar eclipse.  

Mr Eclipse - Upcoming Eclipses of the Sun and Moon - Provides more detail for expanded learning. - Observe Solar Eclipse - Textbook publisher's website. Great simulated video comparing the different types of solar eclipses.

NASA - Solar Eclipse Page - Ultimate authority

Solar Eclipse Glasses - Purchase viewing glasses for your class. 


Proposed Activities

120 minutes

There are several possible student activities you can do with your students prior to the solar eclipse. these activities are designed to give your students a concrete understanding of what is occurring. I prepare my students to understand that for many people a total solar eclipse is a sort of religious experience, with deep spiritual meaning. During a total solar eclipse the day will turn to night, the automatic street lights will turn on, nocturnal animals and insect will emerge, stars will become visible, and the Sun's corona will appear.

A solar eclipse occurs because the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun causing the Moon's shadow to hit the surface of the Earth. Solar eclipses are more common than lunar eclipses. However solar eclipses strike a much small portion of the Earth and move across the surface of the Earth very rapidly (often crossing the middle of the ocean), affording a small portion of the population a clear view (clouds can easily ruin the view).

The Moon's shadow has recently been viewed from space onboard spacecraft and the International Space Station. Below is the Moon's shadow crossing Turkey during the total eclipse of 2006.

Total solar eclipses can occur only on Earth.

Total Solar Eclipse

Due to a cosmic twist of fate, the Moon (small and close) appears in our sky as the exact same size of the Sun (large and far away). On other planets you could only see a partial or annular eclipse.

Partial Solar Eclipse


Annular Solar Eclipse

Proposed Activities

1) If you have a telescope with a solar filter you can observe the solar eclipse. CAUTION - DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN. Always use a filter. If you look at the Sun without a filter, by the time you notice a spot in your vision the damage has already occurred. Galileo was one of the first scientists to look at the Sun with a telescope and he suffered from permanent vision damage as a result. How to look at the Sun.




Viewing the Sun with a Telescope Fitted with a Solar Filter

Filtered view of the Sun as seen through the above telescope. By holding an iPhone 6 to the telescope's lens and setting the camera to burst mode, I was able to get this photo.

A solar filter can be purchased or built if you are handy with basic tools. There are many online telescope firms that would be happy to sell you any equipment related to viewing a solar eclipse.

A reliable resource is Oceanside Photo and Telescope - Solar products. Although not inexpensive, a solar telescope (telescope specifically designed for viewing the Sun) is the best option for solar viewing. Oceanside Photo and Telescope - Solar Telescope.


2) You could also create a solar eclipse in the classroom using Lunar Lollipops. Lunar Lollipops are styrofoam spheres stuck on the end of a popsicle stick. Used in conjunction with a 60w light build to simulate the Sun, you can easily recreate lunar phases, lunar eclipses, and solar eclipses. Have students place their Lunar Lollipop directly in front of the light bulb and move it forward or backward until the Lunar Lollipop completely covers the light bulb.

The picture below shows how a Lunar Lollipop can be used with a light bulb, hanging in the center of a dark classroom. Instructions for building a Lunar Lollipop. This activity would work best as an explanation of the phenomenon before the expected solar eclipse.


3) Build a pinhole projector. A pinhole projector is a small viewer for watching the shadow of the Sun as the Moon passes before it. How to build a pinhole projector. The most simple pinhole projector can be made with two paper plates. Poke a small pinhole in one paper plates and hold it up to the Sun. Position the sunlight projected through this small hole onto the surface of the other paper plate.

Photo credit: Nancy Atkinson


4) Student poster of different types of solar eclipses (total, partial, annular). They had to divide their poster into four sections. One section for a view and labeled diagram of a total solar eclipse, a second section for a view and labeled diagram of a partial solar eclipse, and a third section for a view and labeled diagram of a annular solar eclipse. The fourth section was reserved for a chart of the upcoming solar eclipses.

Student Work Sample