3-Dimensionalize That Eclipse Lesson!

Unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere you’ve probably heard of this little thing being called the Great American Eclipse. While an eclipse is actually not a rare phenomenon (one happens somewhere in the world every 18 months!), this event is being so publicized because the last time the path of totality crossed the US, coast to coast, was nearly 100 years ago! Either way a solar eclipse is a pretty cool phenomenon and a GREAT way to engage students in the wonder of science!

It takes a simple google search to find HUNDREDS of solar eclipse activities for a classroom, but how many of those activities are written in such a way so that students are the driving force behind the learning and not the step-by-step directions? I’m not saying if lessons aren’t inquiry-based they are terrible science lessons but I am saying that we should be involving our students in as many investigations as we can where they are doing science like a scientist (science and engineering practices), and thinking about science like a scientist (crosscutting concepts). Don’t let a “ready-to-go lesson” blind you from the importance of 3-dimensionalizing our science lessons. We should still be evaluating these lessons and adapting them for our classrooms as needed.

So how do you adapt an already made lesson? Easy! And I’ll walk you through an example 🙂

Find a lesson:

First I found a lesson, it’s #11 from this set by NASA.

Pick a Standard:

Typically you should also identify what standard you are addressing but because this is such an exciting current event I think ALL sciences should include an eclipse activity! Science is awesome and I love taking advantage of showing this to them whenever possible 🙂 For this write up though the standard I will be addressing and writing the lesson plan for is a 7th Grade Earth and Space Science Standard (MS-ESS1-1).

Identify what you want students to DO, and how you want them to THINK about the phenomenon :

I read through the lesson to get a gist of what it wanted students to do. Now instead of simply giving all students a copy of this lesson I wanted to change it up so that students were driving their own learning, rather than simply being told what to do. One great driver of student learning is having them come up with questions about the phenomenon you are presenting. So first thing students do will be “develop questions about the solar eclipse.” This isn’t the only thing they should be doing so I’ll include “carry out an investigation” so that they can gather observations/evidence to answer their questions,  “develop models” to illustrate what is happening during an eclipse (this also happens to be the SEP in focus for the standard), and “constructing an explanation” so that they can communicate what they are learning.

What about the solar eclipse should their questions focus on? Well that’s up to them but I do have an end goal (MS-ESS1-1) so I will direct their questions by using crosscutting concepts – the ways of thinking about science. Which CCC should I use? The standard suggests “patterns” so I will definitely include that but I will also include “causes“….it’s probably my favorite lol And I typically include “systems” because it reminds students to focus their observations. These are the three CCCs I’ll mention over and over again to keep them focused while they are learning about the solar eclipse.

Time to put it all together:

This is the part that seems intimidating, I promise it’s not! As a teacher we process what students are doing/thinking in our heads, so all we need to do is write it down in some logical order for students. And when writing 3-dimensional lesson plans (especially in the beginning) there is no rule that says your organization has to be different every time. My 3D lessons have a similar framework – not only does that help me as I’m learning, students learn the routine and it becomes easier for them 🙂 Below you’ll find the lesson:

Phenomenon: Solar Eclipse

Standard: MS-ESS1-1

SEPs: Develop questions, carry out investigations, develop models, and construct explanations

CCCs: Patterns, systems, and causes (also scale if you keep to the original lesson which is such an important thing!)

Materials: yard stick, wooden sticks (tooth picks), styrofoam balls (I used a 3in and a 1in ball), binder clips, a flashlight, and a notecard

***Remember: I don’t give the entire process to my students at once. It’s typically on a powerpoint so that I can give students each piece as we move along. It helps to keep students from being overwhelmed and it helps keep pace so we are paying attention to the time.

Individual Performance:

  • Looking at the image, define the system and develop questions about the patterns and causes of a solar eclipse.

Group Performance:

  • Using the provided materials, carry out an investigation to gather information (observations) about the causes of a solar eclipse.
  • Draw a model that represents your investigations. Using the CER model (claim, evidence, reasoning) construct a preliminary explanation for the causes(s) of a solar eclipse. Remember to include the evidence gathered from your investigation.

Group Discussion: Have students share their information then revise their explanations if needed.

Group Performance:

  • Using online resources (or you, the teacher, can provide this!),  gather information that supports/refutes your preliminary explanation about the cause(s) of a solar eclipse, revising if necessary.
  • Gather information about the cyclic patterns of a solar eclipse, including this in your explanations.
  • Develop a model that more accurately represents the causes of a solar eclipse

Group Discussion: Have students share their information then revise their explanations/models if needed.

Is this lesson perfect? Nope and that’s okay! What is important is that I’ve adapted an activity about the solar eclipse so that it better represents the learning I want my students to do. It has students doing the work, thus making the discoveries! Purposeful thinking is happening due to the crosscutting concepts helping to direct student learning.

You know what the best thing is? Students will be having fun since they are doing something rather than being told what to do. Whatever you do on August 21st, I certainly hope you are able to take advantage of the exciting phenomenon and share the wonders of science with your students!

I hope everyone has a wonderful start to the school year! 🙂




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