Anticipating the 2017 Solar Eclipse: Activities & Lessons for Middle School

On August 21, 2017, Oregon will be the first to see the total eclipse of the Sun. This much anticipated solar eclipse will be visible across much of the United States. I first learned of this rare occurrence a year ago and quickly made plans to be sure we would be in the path.

Solar Eclipse 2017We purchased tickets to attend OMSI’s Eclipse Party at the Salem Fairgrounds and attempted to make hotel reservations in the area to no avail. We have thereby fallen back on a backup plan – staying with family in Eugene and driving up. I fear, however, that the road will be so congested we won’t reach our destination.

Anticipating the 2017 solar eclipse, I am delighted to share with you a number of lessons and activities with which you can engage your middle school students.

About the Solar Eclipse

A total solar eclipse is when the moon moves right in front of the sun, covering it completely for a very short time. It darkens the whole sky, lets you look right at the sun, and shows you the beautiful corona that surrounds the sun. Stars come out, the horizon glows with a 360-degree sunset, the temperature drops, and day turns into night.

Only look at the sun when it is 100% covered. You must use special solar viewing glasses whenever the sun isn’t completely eclipsed or it may cause irreparable eye damage.

The umbra (fully shaded inner region of a shadow) will hit the shores of Oregon at 10:15:53 am PDT near the small town of Otter Rock. From the time the shadow first touches land, it will take only two minutes for the shadow to race eastward. As the eclipse passes over the state, cities will experience various lengths of totality based on their varying distances from the centerline. At the Oregon State Fairgrounds, we will be treated to one minute and 53 seconds of shadow at just after 10:17am.

The eclipse will continue across the United States where Illinois will experience the longest eclipse duration at two minutes and 41 seconds. South Carolina will be the last state to witness the eclipse and the final shadow will be over the Atlantic Ocean near the west coast of Africa. See a map of the full eclipse path.

Solar Eclipse

Three Types of Eclipses

Solar eclipses occur during the new moon phase when the Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun and the three celestial bodies form a straight line, Earth-Moon-Sun. There are three kinds of solar eclipses, Annular, Partial, and Total. On even more rare occasions, a hybrid eclipse occurs when there is a combination of two.

Annular Eclipse

An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon covers the Sun’s center, yet the moon’s shadow doesn’t quite reach the Earth. The Sun’s visible outer edges thus form a “ring of fire” or annulus around the Moon. The ring of fire marks the maximum stage of an annular solar eclipse.

We have been fortunate to observe an eclipse in the past. In 2012, we enjoyed an annular eclipse near Red Bluff, California.

Partial Eclipse

A partial eclipse, which are visible to a greater number of people due to its wider path, occurs when the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth, but they don’t align in a perfectly straight line and thus the Moon only partially covers the Sun’s disc. A Partial Eclipse can be seen on either side of the path of totality where the moon doesn’t completely cover the sun.

Total Eclipse

A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon comes between the Sun and Earth and completely covers the face of the sun, letting the sun’s magnificent corona burst into view, and casts the darkest part of the shadow (the Umbra) on Earth. In this shadow, the Earth is almost as dark as night.

Check out the 2017 Solar Eclipse explainer video we created with mysimpleshow.

Hybrid Eclipse

A hybrid solar eclipse occurs when the eclipse changes from an annular eclipse to a total eclipse along the path of the moon as it rotates about the Earth.

Solar Eclipse 2017Bring it Home – Solar Eclipse Resources

◉ NASA’s Eclipse 2017 guide and information by NOAA Portland 2017 Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse for Beginners: General information on the science of a solar eclipse

◉ NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio Eclipse Gallery: Scientifically accurate visualizations of solar eclipses including position of the Earth, Moon, and Sun, and path of the Moon’s shadow from different perspectives.

Shadow and Substance: A simulation for Oregon showing where totality and partial phases can be viewed.

NASA Eclipse Simulation: Students discover relative relationships between the Sun, Earth, and Moon, and how the Moon can eclipse the Sun.

NASA Wavelength: A full spectrum of NASA resources for Earth and space science education.

Explore the Earth’s geometrical relation to the sun by calculating where the sun will be in the sky for any date or time given a particular location on Earth.

Eclipse in a Different Light: A Sun-Earth Day page for educators presented by NASA.

◉ In 1715, Edmond Halley published a map predicting the time and path of a coming solar eclipse.

◉ If you are a Scout, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to earn the BSA 2017 Solar Eclipse patch.

  • Cub Scouts: Discuss what a solar eclipse is with your leaders.
  • Boy Scouts and Varsity Scouts: Draw a diagram of the positions of the moon, earth, and sun to show how the solar eclipse occurs.
  • Venturers: Research Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington’s 1919 experiment and discuss how it confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Science Milestones: Women in Space

I can vividly recall watching the tragedies of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster unfold on the television. Though I wasn’t particularly interested in astronomy or space exploration, Christa McAuliffe had captured the hearts and minds of school children across the country.

Today marks Christa’s 66th birthday and in her honor, I wanted to celebrate the accomplishments of women in space.  I’ve chosen to focus particularly on McAuliffe and her colleague, Barbara Morgan for these women touched my life personally.


Women in Space

Hundreds of people have flown in space, yet the number of women that have made the journey is still relatively small. Although the first woman flew into space in 1963, it would not be until almost 20 years later that another flew.
The first woman in space was a Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova launched with the Vostok 6 mission on June 16, 1963. The United States did not have a woman in space until 1983, when astronaut Sally Ride launched with the seventh Space Shuttle mission.

In the 1980s, female astronauts/cosmonauts went on to become commonplace. Since then, more than 40 American women have entered space. Most served on the various Space Shuttle flights from 1983 to 2010. Six American women have also served on Soyuz flights.

55 different women total including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and foreign nationals have flown in space.

  • 6 different female cosmonauts have flown on the Soviet/Russian program
  • 1 female astronaut or taikonaut has flown in the Chinese program
  • 48 different women have flown with NASA. 43 of these were Americans

As of July 2014, while 24 men have journeyed to the moon, no woman has travelled beyond low earth orbit.


McAuliffeMorganSharon Christa Corrigan McAuliffe was born on September 2, 1948 in Boston, Massachusetts to Edward Christopher Corrigan and Grace Mary Corrigan. She was the eldest of five children and became a teacher in 1970.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project and McAuliffe learned about NASA’s efforts to find the first civilian, a gifted teacher who could communicate with students to fly into space. McAuliffe became one of more than 11,000 applicants. On July 1, 1985, she was announced as one of the 10 finalists, and on July 7 she traveled to  Johnson Space Center for a week of thorough medical examinations and briefings about space flight.

As a member of mission STS-51-L, she was planning to conduct experiments and teach two lessons from the Space Shuttle. On January 28, 1986, She was one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Barbara Radding Morgan was born on November 28, 1951 to Dr. and Mrs. Jerry Radding and raised in Fresno, California. After high school, she attended Stanford University, graduating with distinction in 1973 and her teaching credential a year later.

Morgan was selected as the backup candidate for the NASA Teacher in Space project on July 19, 1985. From September 1985 to January 1986, Morgan trained with Christa McAuliffe and the Space Shuttle Challenger crew at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.

Following McAuliffe’s death, Morgan assumed the duties of Teacher in Space Designee and resumed her teaching duties at McCall-Donnelly Elementary. Her duties with NASA included public speaking, educational consulting, and curriculum design.

In January 1998, Morgan was selected by NASA as a Mission Specialist and reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1998, making her a full-time astronaut. While training, she continued to present at science conferences across the country and in 2001, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet her at a CESI Luncheon (NSTA Convention 2001) where she was the keynote speaker and I was presented with an award along with Bill Nye.

She flew on STS-118 in August 2007. Three weeks after Morgan’s mission ended, she conducted her first space education assignment at Walt Disney World in Florida, telling those in attendance to “Reach for your dreams … the sky is no limit.” 

Morgan’s words were etched into a plaque on a wall of Mission: Space. The “Wall of Honor” contains quotes from notable people, such as Neil Armstrong, John F. Kennedy, Charles Lindbergy, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Galileo, and Christa McAuliffe. Morgan’s plaque is placed beside McAuliffe’s, which says: “Space is for everybody … That’s our new frontier out there.”

Bring it Home

Explore some of the activities and lessons provided by NASA:

Read one of the many wonderful biographies of pioneering women in space: 

Science Milestones Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.

Explore additional September Birthday lessons and unit studies with iHomeschool Network bloggers.