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In Fort Worth, The First Day Of School Offers A Special Eclipse Lesson For Science Teachers

Christopher Connelly
Students at Leonard Middle School in Fort Worth observe the eclipse on the first day of school.

The first day of school is always a big deal. Kids have to get up early after a summer of sleeping in, and teachers have to plan out the year and memorize a lot of new names. For science teachers in the Fort Worth school district, the first day of school on Monday also meant talking about a historic solar eclipse going on right outside.

For some of the eighth graders at Leonard Middle School, it became a lesson in scientific observation. 

Sara Tipton’s class started just after the sun, the moon and planet Earth began to fall into line and darken the sky across the middle of the U.S. But, before she could get into any of that science, she had attendance to take. She was meeting many of these kids for the first time.

“Some of you I don’t know. So I just wanted to say welcome,” she told the 13- and 14-year-olds sitting around old science lab tables.

The first day of class is always hectic, so Tipton usually takes the first class to get to know her students, start building relationships and puts off content until later in the week.

But because of this rare eclipse – the last time a total solar eclipse was visible across a broad swath of the country was in 1918 – they’re going to jump right in to do some fieldwork.

Credit Christopher Connelly / KERA News
Sara Tipton teaches eighth-grade science at Leonard Middle School.

“As scientists, we are constantly making observations about our surroundings. It could be with just your eyes or it could just be with your ears, but today we’re going to make some actual recordings,” she told her kids.

Tipton tells the kids they’ll measure temperature and wind speed changes during the partial eclipse, take pictures and videos to make digital records, and make other observations.

All of that then goes into a time capsule that’ll be opened in 2024. That’s the next North American solar eclipse, when Texas will be in the path of totality. For today, she tells them, they’ll see the sun 75 percent eclipsed, at its peak.

“It’s one of the reasons I love science so much. Just like today, I never have to open a book to get my kids to understand science. It’s a part of our everyday life, and everyday world. And it just so happens to be a pretty cool science show going on today that we get to be a part of,” she told me. 

After a little lesson on what an eclipse actually is, she hands out those reflective paper “eclipse glasses,” and the whole class headed outside to the school lawn, unusually dark for the middle of the day.

“All right,” she announced as they head into a the school lawn, “put your glasses on, and look up.”

A couple dozen faces, eyes protected by solar filters, looked up.

“It’s like a smiley face. I’d say it’s like the Kool-Aid man smiling, but some other people might be different.,” said 14-year-old Steven Bartleson.

Thirteen-year-old Janette Leos oohed when she saw the sun three-quarters eclipsed. That’s why she likes science, she says: “It explains things that you normally wouldn’t get.”

“That it darkens our world, that’s cool,” said Ayers Triggs. He hadn’t heard anything about the eclipse before he got to class, he said. But he was amazed.

“This is the best day of my life,” he said. “One of the best days of my life.”

After that, he put his eclipse glasses back on to spend a few more minutes watching the half-obscured sun. 

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.