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Schools put eclipse viewing, learning opportunities into alignment

Multiple districts — Monday’s solar eclipse elicited squeals of delight and awe from students and teachers across the country who headed outside with protective glasses to view the rare occurrence from schoolyards and playgrounds.  

In area classrooms, students prepared by learning the science of the phenomenon through reading, art and related activities before heading out to watch the moon creep across 94% of the sun.

At Countryside Elementary in Byron Center Public Schools, teacher Jacob Gorton’s space-themed classroom — complete with toy astronauts and planet stickers on the walls — provided the perfect venue for kindergartners to learn about the phenomenon. They first visualized how light creates shadows by reading the book, “The Black Rabbit,” by Philippa Leathers. 

“When the sun is out, you can see your shadow, but when it’s dark you can’t see your shadow,” explained kindergartner Madison Mulcahy.

Gorton also created a video for Countryside students explaining the solar eclipse, along with resources to teach about shadows and phases of the moon.

After watching the video, Gorton’s students used flashlights and a paper moon to create shadows and mimic their own solar eclipses on their desks. Then, with a better understanding of what they were about to see (and with eclipse glasses in hand), the kindergartners headed outside.

“This is so cool!” Madison exclaimed as the moon crept across the sun. “It looks like the actual moon on top of the actual sun.”

“Look around,” Gorton said to his students. “There is less sunlight now because we’re in a shadow created by the moon.”

Madison made a tasty comparison: “It looks like a macaroni and cheese noodle. It’s making me hungry.”

Countryside Elementary teacher Jacob Gorton’s kindergartners put on their special glasses and look up at the solar eclipse for the first time

Teaching on the Spot

At Murray Lake Elementary in Lowell Area Schools, students learned about how eclipses occur through videos and acting out the event, with fifth-graders playing the sun, moon and Earth moving into alignment. They also created art and paper pinhole projectors.

‘Students learned about (the eclipse) at first through books, videos (and) online information, and then they actually got to experience it in real life. That isn’t always possible when teaching lessons.’

— Murray Lake Principal Molly Burnett

Principal Molly Burnett equipped all students in the school with eclipse glasses to make sure they had the best learning experience possible.

Murray Lake second-grade teacher Sarah Fox helps students, from left, Cass Wood and Baron Shindorf use paper projectors

“The solar eclipse was a great way to connect students with science,” she said. “We weren’t just showing them pictures or having them watch videos about a topic. They were completely involved in the learning and got to see exactly what a solar eclipse is in real life.”

Teachers’ excitement level was high as well, Burnett said. 

“Teachers were able to teach on the spot to talk about the movement and change of the sun and moon,” she said. “Essentially, students learned about it at first through books, videos (and) online information and then they actually got to experience it in real life. That isn’t always possible when teaching lessons. It was hands-on learning at its best.”

Fourth-grade teacher Stuart Kohl said the lesson was a great way to prepare his students for when they learn about space as part of fifth-grade science standards. It was a meaningful opportunity for Kohl as well.

“It’s probably the last time I will get a chance to do this, because I will be 60 years old the next time this happens,” Kohl said. “This is a real treat.” 

During the event, third-grader Haley Roelofs watched as the eclipse reached its peak, noticing changes around her.

“I definitely notice it’s getting darker and colder,” she said.

Never Seen Before

In Comstock Park Public Schools, the students of Stoney Creek Elementary prepared for the big event by using the eclipse as their theme for March is Reading Month. 

Now that the big day had arrived, “I’m excited,” said kindergartner Eli Wiebenga as he waited with his class to head outside. “I’m also a little nervous.”

Eli and his class spent most of March learning about space and the eclipse through videos, books, a writing project and artwork. As eclipse time approached, students finished coloring and cutting out eclipse wheels that showed the different stages of the phenomenon.

“It is really about exposing them to what is going on and why the eclipse is such a big deal,” teacher Kelly Chamberlain said. “At this age, they are so curious and interested in everything, especially space.”

Kindergartner Mila Fix said she was excited to see what happened in the sky “because it is going to be different and I have never seen it before. I think it will be kind of dark with a little bit of light shining through.”

As the moon continued past the sun and the eclipse faded, Eli summed up what most of his peers were saying about the experience: “It looked like the sun was turning smaller and smaller into a banana.”

Reporters Joanne Bailey-Boorsma and Erin Albanese contributed to this story.

Read more: 
Young ‘makers’ create handmade games to help STEM lessons stick
‘Your brain is so powerful’

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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