Salem Statesman Journal
August 18, 2017
Experiencing the Great American Eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but long after the shadow has faded, it’s still likely to leave a lasting impression on children, and hopefully inspire them to learn more about science.
Many in the scientific community think it will, and feel this week’s total solar eclipse is equivalent to the Apollo Lunar Landing on the moon for our younger generation of today.
Previous eclipses have assisted scientists in many ways since the mid-1800s, including the discovery of helium, and testing Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. If the eclipse prompts some of today’s students to study science, imagine the contributions they might make in the future?
The Chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Solar Eclipses, Jay Pasachoff, put it this way: “The most important scientific outcome from this year’s eclipse may be more fundamental: inspiring a 7- or 8-year-old girl or boy somewhere to enter a career of science, perhaps even leading to a fantastically wonderful discovery 20 or 30 years from now.”
Learning about space has been a lifelong hobby of mine. In 1979, the year of the last total solar eclipse to cross over Oregon, I was a sixth-grader in Southern California and my dad would take me to visit the famous Griffith Observatory which had a large solar telescope. I also remember my seventh-grade science teacher who inspired me to pursue a career in science.
When I started teaching science 22 years ago at a brick and mortar high school in Portland, I never imagined I would be spending part of my summer vacation camping out in Central Oregon to observe this epic astronomical event. When my tenth school year at Oregon Connections Academy starts this fall I’ll have plenty of ecliptic show-and-tell material to share with students and staff.
If families had a chance to observe the eclipse from a location in the path of totality or watched it live on TV or streamed online, their children will certainly benefit. When kids see scientific phenomenon like the eclipse happening in the real world, it helps them make connections to what they learned in school.
Although the eclipse is over, for many children their interest in the universe may have just begun. This rare solar spectacle offers many teachable moments that teachers, parents and students can refer to for years to come.
The timing for this eclipse corresponds nicely with back-to-school season and children will be energized to learn more about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.
Not only can children explore STEM concepts, such as mathematical calculations to predict future eclipses, but they can also integrate history, art, writing, and other disciplines into eclipse education. Try a tasty experiment using Oreo cookies to demonstrate the phases of the moon, or ask your student(s) to write a letter to themselves about their eclipse story and put it in a time capsule not to be opened until the next total solar eclipse comes in 2024.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to research this rare solar spectacle, citizen scientists can also get in on the fun. NASA recently launched a new Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program (observer.globe.gov) so people around the world can collect data about the Earth’s atmosphere.
The NASA Eclipse Ballooning Project also involved students across the country, including several from Silverton, North Medford, and Tigard High Schools. Special high-altitude balloons equipped with cutting edge technology collected images and atmospheric measurements. See the results at eclipsemega.movie.
The new Building on the Eclipse Education Program sponsored by Astronomers Without Borders has many hands-on STEM activities (astronomerswithoutborders.org) for families, as does the American Astronomical Society (eclipse.aas.org) and the National Science Teachers Association (nsta.org). These excellent resources can help you to continue the conversation with your child about science and related topics long after the eclipse itself.
I hope families keep the eclipse learning momentum going while the celestial experience is still fresh. Who knows? Maybe this eclipse could be a defining moment for Oregon students.
I would love to see a sixth-grader at Oregon Connections Academy walk across the stage on graduation day seven years from now planning to major in astrophysics in college, just in time to chase the next total solar eclipse crossing over North America.
Dan Vasen, of Corbett, is an Oregon Connections Academy elementary school assistant principal. For information about the school or to reach Vasen, visit www.OregonConnectionsAcademy.com or call 800-382-6010.