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School of Education brings solar eclipse lessons to educators and learners around the state

Apr 4, 2024

Undergraduate education students in Bloomington have been teaching elementary students how to make an eclipse diorama. Photo co... Undergraduate education students in Bloomington have been teaching elementary students how to make an eclipse diorama. Photo courtesy of Saturday Science Quest for Kids

The total solar eclipse approaching April 8 is providing a unique learning opportunity across the state, and Indiana University educational science programs in Indianapolis and Bloomington are preparing educators and students for this astronomical event.

Girls leading research

At the School of Education in Indianapolis, participants in the Girls STEM Institute — which provides learning opportunities for young women of color who are historically marginalized in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — have a unique assignment on the day of the solar eclipse. Led by associate dean for research and faculty development Crystal Morton, the students will collect eclipse data as part of an IMAX documentary project called Einstein’s Incredible Universe.

The data they collect for the project, funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, will allow for scientific analysis of the sun’s inner corona. The outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere is typically hidden by the bright light of the sun’s surface but is visible during a total eclipse. The girls will act as citizen science investigators, equipped with the latest technology and tools needed to capture and share solar images.

Saba-Na’Imah Berhane, assistant director of STEM strategy and curriculum development for the Girls STEM Institute, works closely with the current cohort of seven scholars in seventh to 10th grade to make sure they are fully prepared.

“This is their research project, and they have taken the lead on how to conduct the solar observations,” Berhane said. “They have their equipment and will ensure that their data is valid and has integrity.”

The documentary, produced by Cosmic Pictures with support from the National Girls Collaborative Project, will feature contemporary female astrophysicists who are testing the possibilities of Albert Einstein’s theories of space, time and gravity.

Tambra Jackson, dean of the IU School of Education in Indianapolis, is committed to increasing access to educational opportunities and success.

“Our community engagement at the IU School of Education in Indianapolis focuses on making a difference in the lives of students and in their schools and communities. Access to high-quality STEM programming and opportunities is fundamental to our urban-focused mission.”

Saturday Science

At the School of Education in Bloomington, the spring session of the Saturday Science Quest for Kids program is taking K-6 students on an educational journey to understand what the total solar eclipse is, why it happens and how it affects our natural surroundings.

IU School of Education undergraduate student Amelia Dickson helps an elementary student make a paper representation of a total solar ecli... IU School of Education undergraduate student Amelia Dickson helps an elementary student make a paper representation of a total solar eclipse. Photo courtesy of Saturday Science Quest for Kids

The program serves as a practical teaching experience for junior or senior undergraduate education students. They learn to take on the full responsibility of a classroom and design STEM-integrated lesson plans around a theme each fall and spring semester.

Olivia Boyle, an elementary education major who is nearing the completion of her degree, participated in her first Saturday Science in fall 2023 because it was required for her concentration in science.

“I was motivated to participate a second time this spring because of the experience I gained,” she said. “I not only get to work with various age groups, but I also have the ability to apply the tools I have been given in my education courses. Whether it is practicing how to use classroom management or creating lesson plans that apply to specific grade levels, Saturday Science has given me the opportunity to build my experience and skills as a teacher.”

This spring semester, the undergraduates are teaching lessons over four weeks to help kids prepare for, observe and reflect on the unique phenomenon of the total solar eclipse in their own community.

“I highly recommend pre-service teachers participate in Saturday Science, even if your concentration is in another subject,” said Emma Steiner, another elementary education pre-service teacher who is completing a concentration in science. “You can’t get enough prep for student teaching as well as getting prepared to run your own classroom.”

“You get great ideas from those that you work with as well as bounce ideas off of your graduate advisor, who is a huge help. You also have a lot of freedom with lesson plans and activities, so it truly feels like you’re teaching but you have a lot of help in case you need it.”

The Saturday Science program provides an invaluable opportunity for children in Monroe County and surrounding communities to investigate science or STEM topics in ways they may not be able to in school. The program also provides future teachers with the opportunity to practice the art of teaching in an authentic classroom space, while also receiving mentorship from IU science education graduate students and faculty.

“The work we do at the IU School of Education in Bloomington has a reach beyond the classroom, whether we’re educating elementary students about the science around the eclipse or teaching about environmental change at IU’s Griffy Woods,” said Anastasia Morrone, dean of the IU School of Education in Bloomington. “Together, we enrich minds and strengthen the educational landscape of Indiana.”

Mobile moon lessons

Paul Shircliff, maker education specialist at the School of Education in Bloomington, made it his mission to bring maker education to K-12 schools in the Uplands region in southern Indiana and across the state.

McCormick's Creek elementary students make chalk art of the sun's corona. Photo courtesy of Uplands Mobile Maker McCormick's Creek elementary students make chalk art of the sun's corona. Photo courtesy of Uplands Mobile Maker

“I started my career as a nuclear engineer,” Shircliff said. “But after a few years and some life events, I got my master’s in education. When I taught high school science and mathematics, we were always messy while learning. My room was a makerspace before I even knew the phrase. After 25 years, I left the classroom to learn more about MakerEd and makerspaces. Now, I want to help other educators and schools incorporate it.”

He works with schools to set up a temporary makerspace environment using the Uplands Maker Mobile, which is full of 3D printers, Cricut machines, carpentry tools and more. In anticipation of the total solar eclipse, he’s been being leading eclipse activities at some elementary schools.

Uplands Mobile Maker traveled to Brentwood Elementary School in Plainfield, Indiana, demonstrating to first-graders what happens during an eclipse, using a basketball for the earth and a tennis ball for the moon. They read a book about the eclipse, made earth-moon necklaces, drew corona chalk art and hosted a Q&A session. The mobile makerspace also set up similar activities at McCormick’s Creek Elementary School’s STEAM Night.

Make your own eclipse-themed T-shirt

Training teachers

J. Adam Scribner, director of STEM education initiatives for the School of Education in Bloomington, hosted an event for science educators to learn more about the eclipse through IU astronomy expert Catherine Pilachowski.

Scribner has been leading the Educating for Environmental Change program since 2017, providing professional development programs to K-12 science educators.

In addition to summer intensives and weekend workshops, the program hosts “First Tuesdays” evening lecture events. April’s session was all about the total solar eclipse in Indiana.

Pilachowski shared important information about this astronomical wonder to Hoosier educators (and some from across the country) to pass on to their students.

“Part of my job as an astronomer has been to educate the community so people can understand what’s happening, what to expect, what the eclipse is all about, why it’s interesting and what its impact might be,” she said. “Not all science educators focus on the physical sciences; some may focus on other subjects such as biology. So the goal is to give an astronomer’s perspective and share fun facts that some science educators might not be as familiar with.”


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Nikki Livingston


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