Educating the educators

By Charles Fulco

The next several weeks will be exciting ones for me, as I’ll be stopping at Charleston, S.C., Greenbelt, Md., and Chicago, all with the goal of generating increased awareness of 2017’s Total Solar Eclipse. In each case, I’ll be talking with very different groups: in Charleston, the Visitors and Convention Bureau; in Greenbelt, NASA Education; and in Chicago, the National Science Teachers’ Assoc.’s national conference and students, teachers and administrators at two high schools.

Each meeting is exciting and challenging in its own way. I set up an appointment this Monday with the Charleston bureau after meeting two greeters at the welcome center at Lake Marion (which is within the path of totality) while driving down to Florida last month. I was glad to hear they were were aware of the forthcoming event, but one thought it would be dark “for two or three days.” OK, time to call the Visitors’ Bureau! Unfortunately, the level of awareness was even less there, as I quickly realized on the phone. The good news is, after hearing of the impending onslaught of crowds and the need to accommodate their needs, as representatives of their city, they recognized the seriousness of being unprepared for a total eclipse and asked me for assistance, which I gladly offered. I’m hoping that after Monday, I’ll have an ongoing relationship with the bureau, offering the resources of my colleagues and websites such as

Tuesday’s meeting with NASA/Greenbelt will be a different story--I’ll be meeting with staffers already aware and preparing for the big event in 2-1/2 year’s time, devising strategies to better prepare school districts and municipalities on not only how to safely observe the eclipse, but to make certain students and the general public are not scared into remaining indoors, reduced to watching the beautiful spectacle of a total solar eclipse on television or their smart phones.

Out in suburban Chicago, I’ll be directly teaching to astronomy classes at a couple high schools in Naperville, Ill. Both are excellent schools with robust curricula, which makes me feel optimistic about the success I’ll have there. With schools, the most difficult part of teaching about solar eclipses isn’t getting through to the students; rather, it’s getting the message through to administrators that yes, there are safe ways to view them and you don’t need to pull the classroom blinds and lock the doors to prevent students from being outdoors and being blinded by the eclipse (which seems to be the prevailing view of these school bosses). And these are people with doctorates after their names!

And finally, at the NSTA’s national conference in Chicago, I’ll be spreading the word there as well, but this time to my teaching colleagues. I’m curious as the awareness level among the national cross-section of science instructors there. My greatest concern is that with the advent of new science standards and teaching responsibilities, less time will be spent on preparing students for this eclipse, and how ironic is that?

Stay tuned for my follow-up report. I’m hoping that the work I’ve been putting into “eclipse awareness” will start reaping results. No one said this would be easy!