The Sun Lab (1994) vs. The Sun Lab (2012)
I honestly don’t remember too much from elementary school, and most of what I can recollect is ill-defined and hazy. There is one experience, though, that I can recall with what seems, at least to me, to be impressive detail.
On a bright day in May of 1994, I was in the third grade, and my teacher, Mr. Nelson, had our class construct a few pinhole cameras. We knew not, back then, what pinhole cameras were, but we knew about disposable cameras (remember those?), and I can recall, for the first part of the lesson, feeling perplexed. The shoeboxes, which served as camera bodies, were quite a bit bigger than Kodak cameras, and I just couldn’t understand why we would make something so big. Still, dutifully, the students constructed five of these contraptions, then trooped outside onto the scorching blacktop. As we gathered around Mr. Nelson, he said, with the excitement characteristic of so many elementary school teachers, “There’s going to be a solar eclipse today!”
It was there that for the first time, my classmates and I looked safely at the sun by peering through the viewfinders of our newly constructed cameras. Of course, in our youthful ignorance, we’d tried before to look at the sun with our naked eyes. I vaguely recall something about a double-dog-dare. But we’d never been able to inspect the sun in such detail as we did that day. That little piece of technology, a re-purposed shoebox, helped us to learn more about solar science and direct observation than we ever had before.
Some eighteen years later, technology has advanced in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and through the magic of the internet, students have access to a few more tools than they did all those years ago in California, circa 1994. The new “Sun Lab” from NOVA Labs is such a tool.
For the Sun Lab’s “Boot Camp”, NOVA has produced 3 media modules, with each module containing 3 short educational videos. With topics like “Sun 101,” “Space Weather,” and “Technology & Discovery,” students can watch the videos to learn the basics of the sun, how we study it, and why our relationship with our home star is so important. At the end of each video, students answer questions to check for understanding.
After gleaning the basics from the 9 short videos, students jump right into the online lab space, using the innovative platform to access the same tools and images that professional scientists use to conduct groundbreaking solar research. Students learn about the solar cycle and our place in it, learn to predict future solar storms, and can even develop and conduct their own solar research project.
The lab includes an Educator Guide that can help you implement the programming in a variety of ways in your classroom. The guide also outlines the ways in which the lab’s content has been designed to align with the Next Generation Science Standards. You can find everything you need to make the Sun Lab a successful part of your classroom experience at the NOVA Labs page.
The last thing that I remember hearing Mr. Nelson say that afternoon in 1994 was that another eclipse wouldn’t be visible from California until 2012. At the time, the year 2012 seemed unbearably, impossibly far away. I tried, for a few moments, to imagine the future, and probably had a far away look in my eyes. I think Mr. Nelson must have seen it, because the next thing he said was, “Maybe some of you will become scientists, and you’ll study that eclipse just like you’re studying this one.”
I didn’t become a scientist exactly, but with the Sun Lab, I’m able to use modern technology to learn and be inspired in just the same way we used to use those shoebox pinhole cameras. If you’re a teacher, check out the Sun Lab, show it to your students, and see if they can’t be inspired to envision a seemingly impossible future, made real by the relentless pursuit of knowledge, the advancement of technology, and also, I suppose, by the simple passage of time.