I was barely surviving my first year of teaching in Des Plaines, Illinois. Although I taught seventh grade math, my real passion was teaching science. So you can imagine my excitement at being able to share the 1979 solar eclipse with my students. After all, a total solar eclipse is practically a once-in-a-lifetime experience and math, well math, is a pretty boring everyday occurrence.
After thoroughly (I thought) explaining the dangers of directly viewing the eclipse (including warnings of burned retinas, total blindness, etc.) we constructed pin-hole projectors.* Each student got a plain white index card. We used our math compasses to punch holes in the center of each card. We practiced using our pin-hole viewers, simulating the actual event by holding flashlights over our partners’ shoulders and focusing the light onto the ground.
We were ready for the big day!
Or so I thought.
February 26, 1979 arrived. We positioned ourselves on the blacktop behind the school and readied our pin-hole viewers. The excitement mounted as the edge of the sun began to be “eaten away” by the moon — exactly as we had anticipated.
We were close to the big moment. Everything was going like eclipsical clockwork, so to speak. Until one student–I’ll call him Steven (not for anonymity but because it was so long ago I really don’t remember his name)–took his index card with the pinhole in it, put it up to his eye, and stared DIRECTLY AT THE SUN!
As you might have guessed, my seventh grade lemmings all followed suit. Suddenly I had a hundred students holding flimsy pieces of card stock with holes punched in them, endangering their ocular futures by staring directly at the sun! I feared that an entire generation of future doctors, lawyers, teachers, and engineers were going to go blind because of me. It was too much to bear.
To heck with the eclipse. It was my duty to safeguard their retinas.
“The eclipse is OVER!” I shouted. “Go inside NOW!”
So despite all of the preparation, my students and I never got to see the total eclipse. We couldn’t even see re-runs on the internet because Al Gore hadn’t invented it yet.
To my former students at Apollo Junior High School whose retinas remain intact today, you’re welcome.
And to those same former students–if you plan on letting your grandkids view the eclipse with a pin-hole viewer* this weekend, remember what happened the last time you tried it.
Or you could just stay inside and watch the re-runs online.
*Here’s a link to the directions, but use at your own risk. pin-hole projectors