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Closing for the Eclipse or Staying Open? Schools Prepare for a Monumental Event

With the Great American Eclipse fast approaching, those schools lucky enough to be in the total eclipse’s path are deciding whether or not to stay open for the event.

On August 21, the moon will block out the sun for several minutes with only the sun’s fiery halo visible. While those within 70-mile-wide swath of the eclipse’s path will be able to see the full eclipse, others will only get a partial view of the once in a lifetime phenomenon. A solar eclipse spanning across the entire United States last occurred 99 years ago.

Some schools such as those in Nashville, TN and Carbondale, IL have decided to close, out of concern for not being able to monitor the safety of all students viewing the eclipse. Others such as schools in Atlanta, GA and Paducah, KY have made the choice to stay open, embracing the unique teaching opportunity that’s not likely to come around again anytime soon.

"This is an opportunity for school children to have an experience with other students and in a learning situation that can enrich and extend what they know,” Eleanor Spry, director of St. Mary School in Paducah, KY, said. Paducah is in a near perfect location for viewing the eclipse.

Schools in the Atlanta area are not only having class on the day of the eclipse but also extending the school day for one hour because of safety concerns. (Looking at a solar eclipse without special glasses can be damaging to the eyes.) The city’s school district spokesperson, Sloan Roach said extending the school day by one hour will better help teachers monitor students so that kids view the eclipse properly.

Atlanta schools have a range of activities centered around the solar eclipse planned for students of all grade levels. While elementary school children will be creating pinhole cameras to investigate the change in light during the eclipse, high school physics students will be studying the characteristics of electromagnetic waves during the eclipse.

For those schools that will be having class on August 21,  Pamela Gay of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, recommends teaching students about the eclipse days and weeks before, to help them better understand it. While it’s too close to adopt her recommended six-week strategy plan, educators can still take part in planning such eclipse preparation activities as plotting the thousand-yard model of the solar system and charting the appearance of the moon in the sky between now and Aug 21. NASA has a full range of activities and projects to help students and teachers embrace “Eclipsapalooza.”


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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