Between March 2016 and December 2020, four total solar eclipses occur in the world – one in the southwestern pacific, one in the US and two in South America. These sequential eclipse events provide an unprecedented opportunity to build and scaffold public engagement in science.
Navigating the Path of Totality is a public education program produced by the Exploratorium scientists, educators and media production staff that make use of these total solar eclipses as platforms for sparking public engagement and learning about the Sun, heliophysics, and the STEM content related to both. Our strategy is to start the public engagement process with the 2016 eclipse, nurture that engagement with resources, activities and outreach during the months between the eclipses, so that audiences will be excited, actively interested, and prepared for deeper engagement as each eclipse event occurs.
The Exploratorium works with NASA Subject Matter Experts (SME) and with other NASA Science Mission Directorate partners to leverage the once-in-a-lifetime experience for millions and bring heliophysics information and research to students, educators, and the public at large through a variety of learning experiences and platforms. At the core of this project are live broadcasts/webcasts of telescope images of each eclipse along with educational programming in English and Spanish. These broadcasts/webcasts provide the backbone upon which complementary educational resources and activities are built and delivered. As a freely available resource, the broadcasts/webcasts also provide the baseline content for hundreds if not thousands of educational efforts provided by other science-rich institutions, museums, planetariums, schools, community-based organizations, libraries and other venues. Exploratorium-produced live broadcasts of celestial events have been used this way for over 17 years. Platforms such as NASA TV and Discovery Channel online, media outlets such as CNN, MSNBC and ABC, as well as hundreds of science institutions and thousands of classrooms have streamed Exploratorium eclipse broadcasts as part of their own educational programming. These live broadcasts have become relied upon educational infrastructure during total solar eclipses for institutions and individuals alike.
What does your team hope to achieve?
The intent of Navigating the Path of Totality is to take advantage of eclipse opportunities to produce and disseminate crucial foundational educational programming for each eclipse, most notably high quality live broadcasts/webcasts of the event itself as it unfolds in real time, coupled with expert commentary. These broadcasts can be used to powerfully engage learners with STEM concepts in a range of educational contexts: informal settings (science museums and centers, aquaria, zoos, libraries, afterschool settings, and planetariums), formal settings (K-12 and post-secondary classrooms), and individual settings through broadcast news, and online experiences such as mobile and social media (Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, for example). These exciting media experiences can also provide the impetus for follow-on discussions and further investigations.
"Inquiry is the [set] of behaviors involved in the struggle of human beings for reasonable explanations of phenomena about which they are curious." - Novak, 1964