For Northland Schools, Total Solar Eclipse A Teachable Moment

Aug 15, 2017

Michelle Beffa and Jessica Nolin open up the boxes of eclipse glasses at the Thomas P. Cummings Administrative Office. The glasses arrived in late July, and there are enough for all students and staff in the district.
Credit Catherine Wheeler / KCUR 89.3

As scientists and observers stake out their spots for next week's eclipse, Northland schools are already in a prime location to share science with their students.

Monday is the fourth day of school for North Kansas City, which lies in the path of totality. The district is using the day to celebrate the eclipse and make it a day to experience science, says NKC science instructional coordinator Jessica Nolin.

“We really make it be an experience that students didn’t want to miss,” Nolin says. “We wanted them to not want to miss and come to school and experience it with all their friends and classmates and teachers.”

Michelle Beffa, a teacher at New Mark Middle School has been leading the charge in planning along with Nolin. They started preparing last October. 

"That's really cool," says Nolin as they unpack the 22,000 solar eclipse glasses the district ordered.

Beffa and Nolin have been planning activities for students of all ages. Something all students will get to do is make a nature print.

“You can actually take a shadow, put something from nature on it, and then you can see the shadow as it is, but also capture what the shadows look like during the eclipse,” Beffa says.

Teachers have planned activities and labs for every grade level. For kindergartners, they’ll be working with UV beads, Beffa says. The UV beads look just like regular white beads inside, but once they are exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun, they change colors. 

High school students will be able to use lab equipment, like their weather stations, to do experiments throughout the day, Nolin says.

Besides planning for a day full of eclipse activities, Nolin says they’ve even planned the day down to the lunches when they realized the event will be happening during lunch times.

“We decided every student is going to get a sack lunch that day. So that they’re not having to go into the cafeteria and sit down with their trays,” Nolin says.

Some schools will be get themed snacks — think sundaes, moon pies, Sun Chips, and Capri Suns.

Liberty Public Schools is also in the path of totality.

Mary Coogan, science department chair and chemistry teacher at Liberty North High School, started planning for the eclipse a year ago. The 15,000 pairs of eclipse glasses the district were custom — Coogan says the district had a design competition. The design they settled on features an eagle for Liberty North and a blue jay for Liberty High School.

Science teachers are planning to set up experiments outside in the quad behind their classrooms, which have their own doors to the outside, says Brittan Wilson, a chemistry and biology teacher at Liberty North.

“We can collect data out here, and in the classroom we’ll be graphing it and going through those other kinds of skills,” Wilson says.

Brittan Wilson simulates the Herschel experiment at Liberty North High School. Wilson plans on her students performing the experiment the day of the eclipse.
Credit Catherine Wheeler / KCUR 89.3

Wilson is planning to do the Herschel experiment with her chemistry students, which looks at temperature and light. The students will use thermometers and a glass prism to measure the temperatures of different colors of light. 

“Once they’re set up outside, it should be a band of six inches wide so we can separate out the thermometers, and so then over the course of the day we’ll see how does temperature changes as the sun is blacked out,” Wilson says.

Coogan has planned for the student body to go out on Liberty North's new football field during the two minutes of totality.

Coogan says she and a group of teachers have come up with lessons all teachers can use the day of the eclipse, and hope everyone will get involved, not just science teachers.

Wilson will be incorporating some literature into her lessons.

“I have a couple of things, historic readings. I’ve got some poems from eclipses from that happen in China in like 2000 B.C.,” Wilson says. “The Canterbury Tales has one about an eclipse and a high tide that happened because of it.”

Between the two schools, the educators are looking to make sure this day is an experience for their students.

Since the eclipse is only the fourth day of school, students won’t have the time to make certain parts of what they observe relevant to what they are learning in class yet. Wilson and Coogan say things students will observe about light during the eclipse will be more applicable to classes later in the year.

Teachers want it to be a day students remember.

“It’s a holiday you don’t get out of school for. You’ll miss out on a lot if you don’t show up at school,” Beffa says.

Some schools in the path of totality won’t be open the day of the eclipse. Anticipating large crowds, St. Joseph schools will be closed. Other districts are planning their own eclipse activities — but they aren’t lucky enough to have a front row seat to the action.

Catherine Wheeler is an intern at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at wheeler.catherinem@gmail.com or on Twitter @cwheeeeeler