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Colorado schools make plans to view — and teach — the solar eclipse

Students at Linden Elementary School in Oak Ridge, Tenn., try eclipse glasses. (Chalkbeat file)
Students at Linden Elementary School in Oak Ridge, Tenn., try eclipse glasses. (Chalkbeat file)

This coming Monday should be, by all accounts, a normal day of school. But for three hours, the planet will go dark — and Colorado teachers are seizing it as a teaching moment.

On Monday, as Denver Public Schools starts and students in other Colorado districts settle into the first few weeks of the school year, the moon will blot out regularly scheduled programming as the United States experiences a rare total solar eclipse.
From launching balloons to constructing “sun funnels,” science teachers across the country have big plans for the “Great American Eclipse.” Although Colorado does not lie in the so-called “path of totality,” our view shouldn’t be bad, either.

The eclipse is expected to reach 92.3 percent totality over Denver from after 10 a.m. to around 1 p.m., and schools throughout the state are setting aside time for students to view it safely.

“There’s kind of a new push in science for what is called phenomenon-driven science education,” said Renee Belisle, the grade 3-8 science curriculum specialist for DPS. “Through understanding those events, we understand more of the world around us. Kids can observe this phenomenon and then they can start to generate explanations for why this happens.”

Several districts have ordered or received donations of solar eclipse glasses to help students safely view the phenomenon. Belisle said DPS received a donation of 20,000 glasses to distributed “as equitably as possible” among 93,000 students.

Jeffco Public Schools is urging its students to view the eclipse indirectly through pinhole projectors.

“We offered a strong recommendation to all of our schools to view the eclipse using an indirect method of viewing,” said Matt Flores, Jeffco’s chief academic officer. “As we all know staring directly at the sun is never a good choice. Those glasses, though they have a filter… can still do some damage to a student’s eye.”

Other schools are trying to immerse students in eclipse-viewing and related activities for the day. Students at several area schools, including Cherry Creek High School, will be taking field trips to Wyoming, where the eclipse will be visible in totality over a 67-mile swath of the state.

Belisle said one DPS elementary school is holding an all-day back to school picnic so students can be outside for the entirety of the eclipse.

Officials from most districts said they granted autonomy to schools so they could design curriculum and pick activities around the event that best serve their students. But they all expressed excitement to kick off the school year with the grand display of planetary science in action.

“We hope that it opens their minds up quite a bit more about the beauty of science,” said Richard Charles, Cherry Creek’s director of STEM and innovation.

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