Skip to main content

South Jordan Journal

Solar eclipse didn’t eclipse student learning

May 06, 2024 03:57PM ● By Julie Slama

At Welby Elementary, students put on protective glasses to watch the solar eclipse. (Ana Cerezo-Berbel/Welby Elementary)

Two kindergartners put on solar glasses at lunchtime and looked up into the sky. One, Emilie Puente, was struck with awe as the other, Noelle Lansfeldt, was mesmerized by the partial solar eclipse she was witnessing in Murray.

The Parkside Elementary girls were amongst 400 of their peers out on the playground at lunch recess April 8 having the option to borrow one of the 100 pairs of solar glasses the school ordered, or one of the 60 pairs donated by T-Mobile.

“The excitement was electric at lunch for sure,” said Merissa Graves, Parkside assistant principal who shared a Google Slide presentation informing students about how the moon is between the Earth and the sun, casting a shadow on Earth, and addressing the safety of wearing solar glasses with the school beforehand. “‘Woah! I can see it! Look!’ was heard all around.”

Graves said one new student, a third-grade refugee, put on the glasses and held them tight to his face.

“(The student) had the biggest smile on his face,” she said, adding that about a dozen parent volunteers helped teachers with the viewing.

Parkside was one of several schools that gave students the opportunity to view the eclipse. In the Salt Lake Valley, about 48% was viewable, according to the Clark Planetarium.

At Welby Elementary in South Jordan, fifth-grade dual immersion Spanish students left the classroom three times to witness the eclipse. Beforehand, they discussed the risks of looking directly at the sun and the importance of protecting their eyes.

“Understanding these safety measures was our number one priority: the glasses were going to allow us to watch the eclipse directly without risking eye damage,” Welby teacher Ana Cerezo-Berbel said. “To deepen our understanding, we watched and discussed various videos explaining solar and lunar eclipses.”

The students compared it to a “game of hide and seek,” she said. “Our initial adventure outside treated us to the eclipse’s opening act, with about 10% of the sun covered.”

During the second time outside, the students saw it near its peak eclipse in Utah.

“The excitement was palpable as we observed this significant moment, marking almost the halfway point of the eclipse,” Cerezo-Berbel said. “This time we also crossed our fingers over each other and formed square gaps. When we angled our hands and the sun was hitting them, sunlight passed through the gaps projecting mini eclipses onto the ground.”

As the eclipse began to wane, they stepped outside to witness its concluding stages, watching the moon slowly retreat, revealing the sun’s brilliance. 

“This time we used another creative way to observe without looking directly at the sun: paper viewers. We made holes in a paper to safely watch the projection onto the ground,” she said, adding that the students also followed the event in other cities via the NASA website. 

At Canyon View Elementary in Cottonwood Heights, second-grade students in Raydean Fernandez’ and Madison Elingson’s classes also used pinhole viewers to see the eclipse.

A first-grade teacher, Joy Smith, bought eclipse glasses for her class.

“I tied it to our Wonders curriculum where our question of the week was, ‘What can you see in the sky?’” she said.

Smith also was able to link the experience to the first-grade state science core curriculum about obtaining, evaluating and communicating information about the movement of the sun, moon, and stars to describe predictable patterns.

They were able to discuss how the sun and moon typically appear to rise in one part of the sky, move across the sky and set, but during the eclipse, it was a different kind of view than the first graders were used to seeing.

Recently, students have been able to view several eclipses in the area. 

This past fall, when an annular eclipse passed through Southern Utah, students could see the moon hide nearly 90% of the sun in the Salt Lake Valley, according to the Clark Planetarium. 

Some students could recall the total solar eclipse in 2017, which was the first time a total solar eclipse swept from the Pacific to the Atlantic since the United States was involved in World War I. During that eclipse, where the peak was in central Idaho, Salt Lake Valley students could see about 90% as well.

The next total eclipse viewable in the Salt Lake Valley will be in 20 years. λ