Eclipses across the Curriculum: The 2017 Great American Total Solar Eclipse Coming Up in August Provides Many Opportunities for Integrated Lessons

By Fulco, Charles | Science and Children, April-May 2017 | Go to article overview

Eclipses across the Curriculum: The 2017 Great American Total Solar Eclipse Coming Up in August Provides Many Opportunities for Integrated Lessons


Fulco, Charles, Science and Children


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In the past three installments, we have been discussing the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse (TSE2017) that will occur on Monday, August 21. This will be the first time the Moon's umbra has touched the continental United States since 1979 and the first totality to span our country coast-to-coast since 1918. From within parts of Oregon and through 14 states to South Carolina, the Moon will completely hide the Sun for a few brief moments, turning daytime to an eerie kind of near-twilight, where the Sun's ghostly corona, bright stars and planets, and other phenomena associated with total eclipses become fleetingly visible.

Fortunately, every part of the country will see at least a partial eclipse, so no one is left out. This eclipse offers a chance for virtually every elementary teacher in the United States to participate in a rare and special teaching opportunity. It also allows educators to enhance their science instruction while increasing the level of science literacy in their classroom by employing a cross-content approach. This article examines how to derive the greatest level of literacy from the eclipse via interdisciplinary lessons

Teaching Eclipses Throughout the Year

Upon hearing the word eclipse, educators might assume this is an event that falls only within the realm of a one-off science lesson. Not so! Because eclipses are so intertwined in the history of civilization, they offer a large and varied range of information to be taught within a variety of disciplines. Elementary teachers can explore many aspects of eclipses with their students throughout the year, in a wide range of standards-based lessons, activities, and investigations.

Some elementary teachers might initially be wary at the prospect of teaching multiple lessons on a challenging topic. But this upcoming eclipse offers the opportunity to bring in other subject areas while promoting science literacy and raising an awareness of the connection between nature and humanity. Social studies, math, language arts, art, technology, career sciences, and physical education can be incorporated into your eclipse instruction via engaging, hands-on, standards-based lessons that will bring in wonder and excitement while fulfilling your curriculum requirements.

Integrating Multiple Content Areas Into TSE2017

Incorporating instruction into other content areas can be difficult, for several reasons. The teacher attempting to achieve this level of instruction may not be fluent with other subjects. Some teachers are strong in English but struggle with math, yet teaching about TSE2017 can help. Let's start with the initial content area--elementary science. For elementary teachers who may not feel especially strong in this area, many cross-content resources can help with a general understanding of eclipses (see Internet Resources). Once you've got the basics down, you can expand your knowledge into multiple content areas.

Science

Since cultures have historically been fascinated with patterns in nature, let's begin our cross-content explorations by focusing on ancient civilizations. Teaching about ancient civilizations ties in nicely with social studies and math curricula because these civilizations used patterns to tell time on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis, using the celestial math of the Sun, Moon, and stars. Some of these cultures discovered that eclipses have their own patterns as well (notably, the Saros Cycle), which was discussed previously in the second article of this series (Fulco 2017b).

Because of their unusual and awe-inspiring nature, eclipses have been observed and recorded in some way or another in virtually all cultures and historical periods. The discovery of the cycles governing them was one of the great turning points in astronomy. Ancient civilizations--notably, the Greeks, Sumerians, Chinese, and Egyptians--kept meticulous records of eclipses. …

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