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.

There won’t be another total solar eclipse over the United States until 2024. After that, you must wait until 2045.

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.

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

◉ 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.

5 Benefits of Local Science Museums & Nature Centers { BONUS :: Win a Family Pass }

When we travel as a family, one of the things that is always high on our itinerary are local science museums and nature centers. These local venues provide an intimate look at the natural world and ecosystems of the region. The perfect way to familiarize ourselves with the natural history and wildlife of the local area.

Science Museums & Nature Centers

First to mind are typically our National Parks and large-scale science museums like the Smithsonian, OMSI (in Portland, Oregon), or the Exploratorium (San Fransisco). The smaller museums are often overlooked for the educational opportunities they provide because they don’t have the advertising budget of larger venues. I want to encourage you to seek out these small, local museums and science centers.

Today, I highlight five benefits of local science museums. Best of all – I’m giving away one free family pass to The Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, California.

science museums exhibitsHands-on Exhibits

You are likely already familiar with the hands-on exhibits, IMAX and planetarium shows that explore the wonders of science and the universe that are provided by science museums around the country. However, science museums provide so much more!

The mission of museums today is to stimulate curiosity, creativity and learning through fun, interactive exhibits and programs for children, families and school groups. Whether your visit is a family outing or a part of a school experience, the hands-on exhibits are the keystone of the museum.

Field Trips

The learning opportunities at science museums include field trips and school programs. Often, entrance fees are significantly reduced if visiting the museum in a large group. Consider coordinating an outing for your local homeschool community.

Perhaps your local science museum offers in-house classes or educational experiences with a trained volunteer or staff member? Reach out to your local museum education staff and inquire about their field trip programs. If they do not have programs in place, they may be happy to customize options to fit the needs of your class or school.

Adventure Tours :: Museum instructors and volunteers guide students through activities at the museum using the exhibits, grounds and classrooms.

Festivals :: Multiple stations are set up in and around the museum featuring hands-on activities and opportunities for learning. Students and chaperones explore in small groups.

Self-Guided Field Trips :: Some museums offer a self-guided field trip whereupon school groups pay a reduced admission rate and teachers and chaperones are admitted free.

Self-Guided Learning Expeditions :: Many museums offer materials which provide a focused course of exploration during your museum field trip. Developed with local teachers, each includes pre-visit activities which are built upon during the field trip and completed through post-visit activities in the classroom.

At larger museums often the education programs meet the Next Generation Science Standards as well as the Common Core Standards for Literacy and Math.

science museums festivalsCurriculum

Staff and volunteers of science museums often collaborate to develop education materials and public outreach for their visitors. These materials are often available online with the goal of increasing science literacy across the full spectrum of education, both in the classroom and in daily life, for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Discovery Classes :: Some museums offer classroom based programs that can either be held at the museum or at your school.

Traveling Trunks :: Traveling trunks are a great way to extend the learning experience and bring it back to the classroom. These curriculum-based learning units are designed to enliven classroom learning through authentic materials and hands-on lessons.

Look for ways you can expand upon what was learned at the museum by visiting local historic sites as I shared in my earlier post, Bonanza! Gold Rush Experiences.

Professional Development

Many science museums offer a range of professional development courses and workshops designed to strengthen teacher expertise and integrate hands-on science activities into the classroom. Many also offer formal classes and labs for students of all ages, professional development support for science teachers, and a broad range of formal and informal learning opportunities for visitors.

Teacher Training :: A variety of training programs are offered throughout the year for educators of grades kindergarten through 12. The sessions are designed to help teachers gain a deeper understanding of the region’s arts, culture, history and natural sciences.

science museums summer campSummer Camps

If you’ve been to camp, I’m sure you can list off numerous benefits of summer camp. But if you didn’t go to camp as a child, you may not realize just how good the experience is for children. Unplugging from devices, spending their day outdoors being physically active, making new friends, developing life skills, and growing more independent are just a few of the positives.

There are a multitude of summer camps sure to captivate kids of every interest—and your secret desire to enhance their education—from digging for fossils to programming robots, learning how to sail a boat or navigate across varied terrain with only a compass and a topographical map.

Here are just a few examples of camps available at science museums in California and Oregon:

Lawrence Hall of Science :: Lawrence Hall of Science camps are a great place to spend the summer. Where else can you build a wobbling robot, see how a chinchilla takes a bath, and visit the stars? Campers get inspired to explore, build, and create with new friends and cool tools!

OMSI :: Did you know Olympian swim suits were modeled after a shark’s skin? Look at nature differently as you build bio-mimicry challenges around a coastal campfire.  OR …Try your hand at everything from archaeology to web design this summer with brand new tech-based classes and junior overnight adventures.

High Desert Museum :: Offering a wide range of summer camps exploring animal science, astronomy, geology, and photography through fun and interactive activities and hands-on experiments.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Oregon Museum of Science & Industry :: Field Trip

A couple weeks ago, we the kiddos and I went to OMSI.  The kids had been since Buddy was just a baby … Sweetie only vaguely remembers it.  Presently there is a special exhibit on space exploration so it was the perfect opportunity.

Upon arrival, we spent an hour or so in the Life Science Hall … exploring hands-on activities that introduced the kids to nanotechnology.  During the second half of the twentieth century, scientists and engineers learned to observe, measure, and manipulate individual atoms and molecules. The areas of research related to this activity—known as nanoscience and nanotechnology—are leading to the creation of materials, processes, and technologies that many scientists believe will dramatically change our daily lives. 

Their favorite exhibit was a large display of human fetuses whereby they could become more familiar with the different stages of human fetal development during all nine months of pregnancy.  One of my good friends is a doula and we’ve frequently talked about birth … the kids also request to hear their birth story regularly.  


From there we spent time in the lab where visitors generally get the chance to hold and touch a variety of animals and insects.  This was not the case during our visit but we did get to observe.  I would have expected the kids to be intrigued by the animals we don’t have … snakes, a tarantula, a scorpion, walking sticks, turtles, etc. … but they spent most of the time observing the rats. Go figure.

They also enjoyed the earth science lab where they got their hands wet in the Watershed Lab. They created their own rivers and explored the microscopic world that supports us all.  In this area were several gallon jugs with varying amounts of sand to represent the different magnitudes of earthquakes.  We discussed the recent quakes and the damage that resulted in Haiti and Chile.  

We were not able to get into the Paleontology Lab – much to our disappointment – as there was a special class taking place.  We did, however, get to explore the many exhibits on dinosaurs and prehistoric life.  This helped to make our previous studies more real for them.  Buddy still insists he would like to be a Paleontologist.  

After we explored these permanent exhibits, we went down stairs to the OMNIMAX theater where we watched Hubble!  We then went to the planetarium for another show called Stars.  Both were very informative but went over Buddies head.  Sweetie really enjoyed them.

We concluded our trip exploring the temporary exhibit, Space: A Journey to Our Future.  This dynamic, multimedia exhibit looks back into the history of aeronautics and examines the many unknown questions of existence posed by future space exploration.  This was a lot of fun for me as it brought back many memories of the weeks I spent at Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena as participant of a NASA Education Workshop for teachers.  

 What surprised me was how much the kids had remembered from our previous reading – this always surprises me – images and models sparked their interest and thereby their narrations.  The kids most enjoyed the Gemini spacecraft replica.  They climbed aboard and announced, “I’m Buzz Aldrin!”  “I’m Neil Armstrong.  Mom you can be Mike Collins!”  Okay.