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As in many “At Risk” or Title 1 schools, my school (with the exception of a few teachers) stopped teaching Science and Social Studies and made art only something you do on special occasions like Christmas or Valentines Day – to focus entirely on “Literacy” and math. This was pretty much universally true in the primary grades (and mostly still is).


This week we kicked off our study of the solar system and space by using Wednesday’s lunar eclipse as a reason to go out at night and look at the sky. We learned about eclipses and then my students received a homework assignment to observe the eclipse at different times, write down some observations, and write a blog post about their experience. I gave each one of them a copy of a chart put out by NASA showing the timing and phases of the event.


Wednesday after school my classroom was used by our after school program for the third graders. As I was putting things away one of the teachers saw some of our eclipse pages and commented aloud, “Oh yeah, the eclipse is tonight. That should be cool to see.”


There was silence for a moment and then a young voice asked, “An eclipse … what’s that?”


The teacher tried to find the words but then nodded in my direction and wondered aloud, “Maybe Mr. Crosby can explain it.”


So I gave a brief explanation that the Earth would move between the Sun and the Moon and its shadow would cover the Moon. As soon as the last words left my mouth the 3rd graders in the room raised their hands to their mouths and began to stomp their feet and say, “We’re all gonna die!!!” and some put their faces down on the tabletops.


At first I thought they were just being silly … but no, they were scared.


I asked incredulously, “What does the Earth’s shadow covering the Moon have to do with dying? How would that cause anyone to die?”

And the teachers-aide added, “Guys, I’ve seen eclipses before and I’m still alive. Nothing’s going to happen.”


This seemed to mollify the kids and they got back to doing homework immediately like nothing had happened.


Less than a minute later a student wondered, “So if that’s all an eclipse is … what’s so cool about them?”


I answered, “Good question. Well during a lunar eclipse the Earth blocks most of the light from getting to the Moon, but the red light bends around the Moon and makes the Moon take on a reddish color because…” and before I could finish hands were covering mouths again and feet were stomping and students were moaning and talking about dying again. It was just eerie and not at all what you would expect as a reaction from 8 year olds.


I again asked what about what I had said made them think they were going to die? Just asking that got them to quiet and sit up. No one said it, but the looks on their faces said, “You mean it doesn’t mean that?” And now everything was OK again. I looked up and the other 2 adults were shaking their heads with the most puzzled looks on their faces … they didn’t get this reaction either – and one of them announced, “OK no more talk about the eclipse …  let’s get some of our homework done.” That ended the conversation.

11 Responses to “Reason #6 Why We Need To Teach Real Science Again In At Risk Schools”

  1. alicemercer says:

    Sad, see these new readers have units that are about science and about social studies, but they really seem to teach those subjects using the polka dot method. This is where you paint a wall not with a roller (which covers everything) but in a series of dots, where not everything gets covered.

    Tossing out this page I hacked together for my students:

  2. Brian Crosby says:

    Yes – or the Blanket Method … where you cover EVERYTHING so nothing gets uncovered and discovered.

  3. [...] Put up a new post over at “In Practice” about an experience I had this week with some third graders at my school and questions they had about lunar eclipses. A real head shaker. It’s called: Reason #6 Why We Need To Teach Real Science Again In At Risk Schools [...]

  4. Jeff says:

    The quick idea that comes to mind for me would use “technology”, but not in a techie way.

    Have that projector or overhead on and lighting up the screen? Have one of the kids come up and do a shadow puppet. I know elementary loves this because my middle schoolers STILL do. They can’t resist it if the projector is on when they come into class.

    Then, in whatever manner, put a circle on the board or screen representing the moon, and pass a tennis ball earth across it. Yes, the scale and comparative distance and sizes are off, but it would give a good visual. Put a huge circle on the board or screen and you could demonstrate a solar eclipse.

    With third graders, you probably DON’T want to share with them the fact that a long time ago before we understood eclipses, people did think they were going to die because they thought the world was ending when the moon turned blood red or the sun stopped shining in the middle of the day!

  5. Brian Crosby says:

    Jeff – Actually that is pretty much exactly what I did with my own 5th grade class (and more) – but these students were in my class after-school only because the room they usually use wasn’t available and they were supposed to be working on something else and I was on my way out to a meeting.

    The other part of this is that whereas some teachers will take an event like this and take at least some time to discuss it (remember current events?) – during the NCLB era teachers have been told NOT to do anything outside of just exactly what you are supposed to teach … there is no time. I believe this is a huge disservice … nay injustice to our students.

  6. Doug Noon says:

    I teach at a Title 1 school in Alaska. The internet brings me amazing bits of news in the form of statements such as this one: “As in many “At Risk” or Title 1 schools, my school (with the exception of a few teachers) stopped teaching Science and Social Studies…”


    From this post I begin to understand the importance of school administrators in setting/maintaining an educational agenda. I understand the meaning of the term “educational leadership.”

    Science and Social Studies are critical to sustaining a civilization that is case-hardened against stereotypes, propaganda, and superstition. Reading and math are important, yes. But they are merely skills, *about* nothing. How meaningless! What happened to the teachable moment?

    I feel lucky to live in a place where people understand that the rest of the world is nuts. Of course, Alaskans are famous for circling the wagons and shooting IN.

    Teach Science. Teach Social Studies. Be a radical.

    How strange.

  7. Brian Crosby says:

    Doug – I suspect being in Alaska is key. The pressure put on admin and especially the principals to do the reading program “as designed” was incredible (at my school we have backed way off that attitude, and obviously that wouldn’t happen if pressure from the top hadn’t lessened too). And the belief of many was that these programs would save us all IF ONLY YOU WOULD DO THEM LONGER AND HARDER and then get even more training.

    There are still a few schools in my district that have principals that do walkthroughs looking to see if you are deviating from the program. I’ve had 4 teachers taking a “tech class” that I teach which emphasizes writing the last 3 years drop the class (one in tears) after the 2nd week because they would be using one of the techniques I had taught only to have their principal nix it during a walkthrough – “Where is that activity in the reading program … can you show me where in the materials you got this activity!???”

    The irony for me is … I wonder how well Whole Language would have worked out if the amount of money and training that went into this mess had been spent on whole language?

  8. Doug Noon says:

    You’re right. Putting more faith in “materials” than in human judgment is beyond the scope of my experience. It is a mess, and it’s worse than I thought.

  9. Delaine Zody says:

    Your story made me so sad…what are we doing to inner city kids who have no background information from their homes with which to comprehend life?

    Occasionally my high school students make similar conclusions and it blows me out of the water. A few years ago, one of my seniors decided to drop out of school, and when I questioned him about his decision, I made the remark, “you’ll have a rough row to hoe because of this.” He puffed himself up, full height, and spat back at me, “what? you calling me a ho?” I was so shocked, that for once, I was speechless.

  10. Jenorr says:

    I’m in complete agreement and yet I’m going to argue. We have a limited amount of hours in the day and the time spent with our students is surprisingly brief. It’s critical that they learn to read, write, and understand math. We have to prioritize in some manner and it isn’t surprising if those three subjects come out on top. I truly don’t mean to suggest that we should drop social studies and science entirely (I’m married to a historian so that would get me in big trouble). But I know that I spend less time on those areas than I do on reading, writing and math.

    This post, more than most, takes me back to the title and idea of this blog, “Theory is nice, but we are working in practice…”

  11. [...] Brian Crosby shares an account of how we are paying for it as he tells of students’ reactions to the recent eclipse.  Students were scared, but it’s even more frightening to think about the future implications for these kids not having the opportunities to explore science in elementary school.   I loved reading the comment from Doug Noon.  Teach Science.  Teach Social Studies.  Be a radical.  [...]

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