Boulder Valley School District

Eclipse offers Boulder Valley students an opportunity to engage in real-life science

Randy Barber

BVSD students to be equipped with solar glasses, thanks to generous donation by Ball Aerospace engineer and Ball Corporation

Colorado will have a front-row seat to a rare astronomical event next week. On Monday, August 21, a solar eclipse will darken the sun for a period of time, giving Boulder Valley School District students an excellent opportunity to engage in real-life science by simply stepping outside.

Most BVSD teachers will take their students outside, knowing that this real-life event will spark learning not only on the day of, but perhaps for days and weeks afterward.

“This isn’t something they’ve read in a book or heard from their teacher. It is a real-world experience,” said BVSD Science and Instructional Systems Director Jennifer Garfield. “When you are talking about space and the universe, it can be so abstract and so large. Being able to experience something like this, firsthand, is really the most powerful teaching tool.”

During the event, the moon will slide in front of the sun. At its peak in the Boulder area, about 93 percent of the sun will be blocked.

More information about the eclipse is available from NASA at

With the proper precautions, the viewing will be completely safe and a great opportunity for learning. NASA offers safety tips on its 2017 Eclipse website.

“The safety is a primary concern for us,” Garfield explained. “We are working with teachers to make sure that eclipse safety is being talked about in the classroom prior to the event, and we have tried to provide tools students need to safely view the eclipse.”

Phil-Mehalko- eclipse-glasses.jpgIn BVSD, students will have the opportunity to see the eclipse directly, using solar glasses donated by Ball Aerospace System and Test Engineer Phil Mehalko. The Ball Corporation matched Mehalko’s contribution, allowing him to purchase about 7,000 pairs of the special glasses, or about one for every four Boulder Valley students.

“I have a passion for science education at all levels,” explained Mehalko, who is currently working on the James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to launch in 2018. “My passion for science education has helped me throughout my career/life.”

When he learned about the eclipse a couple years ago, he saw an opportunity.

“I immediately saw this as a once in a lifetime teachable science moment that shouldn’t go to waste,” Mehalko said. “My first hope here is that the students will become more interested in astronomy through direct observation from this rare and special event. I have a secondary hope that my contribution will inspire other scientists and business leaders to further support science education in our schools. I hope these leaders will see from my example that there are mechanisms through school districts to directly support students for science education.”

glasses info.jpgEditor's Note: BVSD purchased the solar glasses using the donation. The Eclipser glasses conform to and meets the Transmission Requirements of ISO 12312-2, Filters for Direct Observation of the Sun.

Some schools are purchasing additional glasses, so that every student has a pair. Additionally, many schools will be offering indirect ways to observe the eclipse’s impact, including pinhole projectors.

At Centennial Middle School, teachers are planning a number of cross-curricular activities.

“We will be rotating all 650 of our students through viewing stations of the eclipse event in different areas around our school. Each teacher will be providing direct instruction regarding the event, with many making curricular ties to their academic content area,” Centennial Middle School Principal John McCluskey said.

Eclipse courses offered to teachers
For teachers who do not have a background in science, professional development classes have been available so they can deepen their knowledge before the big event. Taught by Dr. Claire Raftery, of the National Solar Observatory which recently moved to Boulder, and Briana Ingermann, the Education Programs Manager at Fiske Planetarium at CU Boulder, the course is providing an understanding of the eclipse in the context of the solar system and the sun's impact on life on Earth.

READ MORE:  Local scientists team up to prepare BVSD teachers for the ‘Great American Eclipse’

Food Services is accommodating eclipse-watchers
Knowing that many students won’t want to miss a moment of the celestial event, BVSD’s Food Services is planning a special menu that will accommodate the event.

Lunch at all BVSD schools will be Pulled Pork Sandwiches (gluten-free without a bun), Cheese Pizza and Pepperoni Pizza. Salad bars will be set up as normal. Entrees will be served in compostable boats, which can be easily taken outside.


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