Solar Eclipse Podcast images of two men and the Popular Podagogy LogoDr. Nikhil Arora (Physics) and Dr. Nenad Radakovic (Education) join host Chris Carlton to discuss the 2024 total solar eclipse. Listen to find out more about the solar eclipse, what to talk about in your classroom, and more!


Podcast Transcript 

Chris Carlton: Hi there, thanks for joining us and welcome to another episode of Popular Podagogy, where we try to bring big ideas in teaching and education to life. I'm your host, Chris Carleton, and this podcast is being brought to you by the Faculty of Education at Queen's University. 

Welcome to our podcast. In this episode, we will be discussing the exciting and historical total solar eclipse that will be happening and visible here in Kingston on April 8th. This once-in-a-lifetime event has had an incredible amount of publicity and Queen's University and the City of Kingston have been doing a lot of planning for this spectacular celestial occurrence. We will be speaking with two Queen's professors who have been helping to make sure everyone is prepared and informed for this amazing event.

Our first guest, Dr. Nik Arora, completed his Master's and PhD here at Queen's University, where he currently studies dark matter and how it affects galaxies, which to me sounds so science fiction, which I absolutely love. He just happens to also be the Queen's Eclipse Outreach Coordinator for the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy.  Nik, welcome to our podcast.

NA: Yeah, thank you for having me.

CC: I know you're very busy right now. We're coming up to the big event, so I really appreciate  you taking the time to be with us today.

NA: Yeah, it's all my pleasure. Happy to be here. 

CC: Nik, one of the articles I read about your solar eclipse outreach program stated that one of your main goals was getting Kingstonians excited to be astronomers for a day, and that your team of volunteer ambassadors, which is massive, is working with local school boards to promote the science of eclipses and how to watch them safely. So my first question is how does your team prepare students and Kingstonians to be astronomers for a day? Isn't being an astronomer a huge involved task? 

NA: It is. It truly is. Trust me.I have a lot of stories to tell you on that. But I think it is the reason why I said that in that particular article is sort of the intrinsic nature of eclipses themselves. If you think about any other astronomical phenomenon, meteor  showers, comets, you want to go see planets, just to have access to the night sky, you either need expensive telescopes or you need to drive to a dark sky region to avoid city light pollution. That is not the case for eclipses, right? During an eclipse, you just  need to step out of your house, have eclipse glasses with you, step out of your house, step out of your workspace, and that's it, and look up. And fundamentally, that's what astronomy is all about. It's about stepping out and looking up and appreciating the cosmos.If you really think about it, that's what Galileo did back in the day. Sure, we can  give access to Hubble or James Webb Space Telescope to every single person in Canada or U.S.  right now, but we can actually use this eclipse as an opportunity for people to appreciate astronomy in itself. I think it's the nature of the event, more than my own effort, that  allows for everyone to be astronomers on that.

CC: And I love that because your comment, stepping out and looking up and appreciating nature, is one of the things we teach in our  program, is that we just have to get outside. We have to look around us, and you're right,  we've got the dark sky areas around Kingston, we've got access to telescopes, but this brings  everybody to the same point where all we have to do is look up.

NA: Yeah, it removes a lot of the  barriers, it removes any hindrance that you might have. All you need to do is for three minutes on April 8th, just step out, and you're an astronomer. That's it.

CC: Amazing, and so empowering for every age group to be able to call that as well. Now, over 80 schools, which is incredible, over 80 schools from Limestone District School Board and Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, have registered to host your team's solar eclipse workshops, where you are teaching the students about eclipses and why they happen, and how eclipses have helped research advance in understanding light. So, how have your workshops been received by the students,  and what have been some of your big takeaways and their big takeaways about this exciting outreach program?

NA: Yeah, I think in general, the reception of the workshops for the school has been absolutely fabulous. We are actually kind of oversubscribed, which is always better, right? People are excited about this.

NA: We are going to more schools than we actually truly have the capacity for, but people are interested in this topic, people want to learn about this, students want to engage, teachers want to engage, and we're very happy about it. Some of the teachers are very happy in how our volunteers are actually conducting these workshops. They say they're absolutely structured with all of the information that one could think of about the eclipse.

Personally, I have done a few workshops as well, and I've been referred to as the funniest physicist on earth. I think I will take that and put it out on my door. I will definitely do that.

Knowledge of physics doesn't matter. I am funny. So, it's been absolutely exceptional, and I think the key point over here to go to schools was not really to give people a whole dump of knowledge about the eclipse, right? Honestly, you can do that using the internet.

The internet is a lot more smarter than I am, or I could ever be, but I think when we actually send our ambassadors into these schools, they act as role models. We have a diverse group of astronomers, not astronomers, actually a diverse group of ambassadors who are going into these schools and just showing that science can be for anyone and everyone, right? So, when I tell people that I am an astronomer, I generally get two responses. One of them is, oh, that's super cool, tell me more about it, and then the second one is, oh, that must be hard because you must have to do so much math, right? And the second, it's the latter opinion that I am almost, I really want to change among people because if you think about it, anything in your life can be hard, right? There are things harder than physics for sure, and so we want to show that this is not something to be daunted by.

There are exciting things, and how about we present these exciting things to the kids first rather than daunting them with a whole wall of math and equations, which is also still cool, by the way. And math is in everything we do, so it's all part of our life as well. Exactly, yeah.

CC: The word I hear through the conversation is engagement, engagement, engagement, engagement, and that's what, as teachers, we strive to get our kids engaged and excited about something. I've met with a couple of your ambassadors, and they are so engaged. They are so excited about going out and telling other people about the solar eclipse and all the exciting things about it.

So, you've done a great job of mobilizing them to go out there, and I've also talked to a lot of teachers that were so excited that they actually got one of the golden tickets for you guys to come in. Yeah. So, that is great.

NA: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. I'm very excited that there's so many publications, and you mentioned there's so many websites out there, it's daunting how much there is out there, dedicated to this event and the science and history, which I really like.

CC:I read that on Earth, though, total solar eclipses occur about once every 18 months, which is a science fact that I did not know at all. If they occur that often, why is this one being called a once-in-a-lifetime event?

NA: Yeah, that's a great question. So, it's true that eclipses happen once every 18 months or so, but it's worth appreciating the fact that most of the Earth is actually water. So, even though eclipses happen every year and a half, they spend a lot of time in water.

In fact, some eclipses never hit land. They always just spend their whole time in water. Even the April 8th eclipse is a great example.

If you're able to pull up the map and see the path, it's spending a considerable amount of time in water in the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean. And so, when you do your math, fancy math, what you'll find out is that through one particular city on planet Earth, eclipses happen roughly once every 366 years or so. And so, that's what makes it so rare and so exciting as a once-in-a-lifetime effect.

But also, just to add on to the exciting part, I think there's one key thing that we need to appreciate over here, and that is the feeling that you have when you actually experience totality. It just gives you an appreciation of the fact that we are in a moving system. Sure, the sun rises and then the sun sets, but it takes 12 hours.

And we have too many things going on to appreciate that for 12 hours. Totality lasts for three minutes. We can take that time of three minutes and have that visceral experience of the fact that we are a part of the moving system.

We see the solar system's mechanics right there in front of us. I think that's what makes it exciting and something that people actually chase. The solar system's mechanics.

CC: I think that's an amazing phrase. I just love the word totality, too. It's complete.

And as you said, we need to get out there, we need to appreciate nature, and this is one of those things that we can actually visually see and experience. That is amazing. Thank you so much for getting us excited about the world around us and encouraging us to get outside and experience it.

NA: That's what we need to have more of. I have done my job.

CC: Today, we also have a colleague of mine, Dr. Radakovic, who is an associate professor of STEM education here at Queen's Faculty of Education.

He is also the coordinator of the Faculty of Education STEAM Plus program and the founder and principal investigator for Transdisciplinary STEAM Education Lab, TRACE Lab. Nenad, welcome to the podcast.

NR: Thank you so much, Chris.I'm happy to be here.

CC: Nenad, with regards to teacher education and education in general, why do you think this solar eclipse, total solar eclipse, is such an important event? I think it connects to what Nick was saying. What do we want to do with students? What is the point of education?

NR: The point is to excite students, to engage students. If you have a cosmic event, how cool is that in terms of engagement? As a math educator, people ask me all the time, where is the math? Here, we have the sun, we have the moon. There is so much mathematics that anybody from kindergarten through graduate school can be a part of. Anything from looking and determining the path of the eclipse or the way that basically you have this really cool geometry problem, which is the intersection of two circles.

Finally, you see why this is important. It's not a trivial problem. There are so many ways that you can engage students in solving this problem.

You have a cosmic event that students can connect to, that they can be engaged in and connected to many different parts of the curriculum. We want to show math in motion, but here's math in motion. I really like the way you said making that connection, because kids need to see that relevance of the topics that we are teaching.

They need to see a connection to real life. This is an event. I have never taught solar systems without my kids getting super excited.

They've got so many ideas, so many facts that they're spinning around in their heads. It's an opportunity to let them see the math, let them see the language, let them see the science. I'm going to use Nik's word, the solar system mechanics.

That is exciting to me. Every teacher has an opportunity now to look to the sky and say, here's the math, here's the science, here's the language, here's the indigenous connections. There's so many different things we can throw in there.

CC: So your research, transdisciplinary education, what are some ways you could use the solar eclipse in classes outside of science? You've mentioned math already, so we can jump from that even there.

NR: Again, being a cosmic event that is seen on Earth, it influences the planet. So starting from sciences, think of biology.

You can study behavior of different animals during the eclipse. You can also study how temperature changes. You can connect it to history.

You can connect it to indigenous knowledge. I think we hear a lot about Eurocentric versions of history regarding eclipses, but there's a really rich indigenous knowledge. So that's one part.

Anytime you have beauty, you have art too. You have aesthetics. So you can do anything from observing.

If you had, let's say, pinhole camera, and you can play with the aesthetics of projection of the eclipse. One of the things that we are going to have at the Faculty of Education are UV beads that change color depending on brightness. You can also connect this to poetry.

If you have an impact on the entire population, you have this emotional part. If you have emotional part, you have poetry, you have music. So there are many resources online.

If you have anybody, like you mentioned before, internet is a vast resource. If you just Google art and eclipse, you will get many, many pages of what you can do. And again, I think about transdisciplinarity.

One word, observation. Observation can be done in many, many, many different ways. Artists observe the world in one way, mathematicians in another, physicists in another, biologists in another.

So by just putting that word out there, it's transdisciplinary. And you and I have talked before, Nenad, about the fact that real life events are naturally transdisciplinary. And we can look at all of those different subjects.

And it comes back, and both you and Nik have talked about this in many different ways. We're making education and learning fun, engaging, and empowering for our students. Who knows where this is going to take some of our students? Who knows what seeds we're planting for our students to become the next mathematician, the next astronomer, the next scientist, the next biologist? We talk about the biology and behavior of animals and plants.

CC: This is just planting the seeds for excitement and them saying, wow, this is a lot of fun. And what better way to get outside, look up, and appreciate nature? It's amazing. Thank you both for doing this.

There's a lot of exciting excitement about the upcoming total solar eclipse. And it's predicted that millions of people will be able to observe this special event this year, cross our fingers, clear skies. Safety is a big concern for both adults and children.

And I'd like to finish off the podcast with advice from our guests as to what safety precautions should we be taking while we're watching the solar eclipse. And Nik, if we could start with you and just give us a couple quick comments on this important topic. Yeah, absolutely.

NA: So I always like to talk about safety with as much positivity as possible. But let me begin by saying, eclipse or not, you should not be looking at the sun. Whether you have sunglasses on or not, whether it's an eclipse day or not, never look up at the sun because the sun is too bright.

And we're almost built that way. There are evolutionary responses that our body has to looking up at the sun. We squint our eyes, our eyes get watery and we want to look away.

So it's built in us, right? And along the same lines, but there's something cool happening in the sky and we are curious creatures and we want to experience it. And so for that reason, we are making these eclipse glasses available throughout the whole city of Kingston to as many people as possible. We have 120,000 of these.

And we should be using these glasses to look up at the sun. These glasses block off 99.99% of the light from the sun, which means the only thing visible when you put these glasses on is just the sun. So these are perfect to look at the eclipse wave.

And now there's an important thing because I started by saying we want to keep this positive, right? Yes, looking at the sun can be dangerous. There are precautions that we need to take, but that doesn't mean people cannot experience it. And that doesn't mean people cannot have that incredible experience that we've been sort of emphasizing so much, right? We just need to be able to facilitate that experience for people.

And so that's why we're going to schools, telling people about pinhole cameras that Nenad mentioned, telling people about the eclipses, giving them glasses so that on that day they're able to experience this, this almost cosmic coincidence, this cosmic dance and be impacted by it. That natural curiosity is what we sometimes need to fan as well. Get them excited because I feel sometimes it's lost when students aren't able to get outside and see what's beautifully around them.

We start to lose that natural curiosity.

CC: So I'm glad you mentioned that. I've tried those glasses on and I read the little disclaimer and you're right.

You don't put them on and try to walk around the room. They are pitch black. Yep.

They look super cool, but that doesn't mean you keep them on for the whole time. Just while looking at the sun. Very good.

CC: Nenad, would you like to add anything to that?

NR: Yeah, I would just add is that we are educators. We care about safety of children. But I think the number one here thing is that this is an amazing event.

And then let's, let's see how we can do this safely. I wear glasses. Another thing that I do, I'm not going to have the eclipse glasses.

There's actually a cardboard that has the same type of material I've seen those. The glasses cups, you can get those too. So please do not lock your children inside.

Have them be transformed by this amazing event. Be careful, but let them be transformed. Great bumper sticker.

CC: I like that one. Thank you so much for sharing your time. I know you're both busy, but also your research and you can tell it's your passions as well, which I love.

And your ideas with us today. As we have said, this is a once in a lifetime event that is going to be amazing. And we thank you for helping us understand a little bit more of the science behind it and the math behind it.

Our listeners will definitely want to look further into the resources you have allowed us to include on the podcast website today. Thank you again for your time. It's been great.

Yeah, thank you for having me. Thank you so much. That does it for another episode of Popular Podagogy.

Again, thank you to our amazing guests, Dr. Aurora and Dr. Radakovic. Josh, as always, where can our listeners subscribe to make sure they don't miss any of our Popular Podagogy podcasts? Yeah, if you like what you hear, please subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, the CFRC website, the Faculty of Education website, and pretty much any place you get your podcasts. Please don't forget to check out our Queen's Faculty of Education website and search for Popular Podagogy for additional resources and information on this important topic.

Well, that's it from myself, Chris Carlton, and our incredibly talented and resourceful podcast team of Josh Vine and Erin York. Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay connected. We will see you next time for another episode of Popular Podagogy.