Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Preparing Museum and Science Center Educators to Engage the Public across the United States for the 2017, 2023, and 2024 Solar Eclipses

A description of the NISE network to provide professional development and public engagement materials.

Published onMar 01, 2024
Preparing Museum and Science Center Educators to Engage the Public across the United States for the 2017, 2023, and 2024 Solar Eclipses


The National Informal STEM Education Network (NISE Network) is a community of informal educators and scientists dedicated to supporting learning about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) across the United States. The NISE Network creates professional development and public engagement materials on a national and regional level, while NISE Network partners coordinate and implement project activities locally. In preparation for the 2017, 2023, and 2024 solar eclipses, the NISE Network worked with thousands of museum educators nationwide to provide the tools and resources needed to raise their capacities to prepare their institutions to engage their local communities. These efforts included professional development materials for staff and volunteers, online workshops, training materials, promotional materials, safety guides, event planning, public engagement activities, and evaluation.

1. Introduction

The National Informal STEM Education Network (NISE Network) is a community of informal educators and scientists dedicated to supporting learning about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) across the United States. The NISE Network creates professional development and public engagement materials on a national and regional level, while NISE Network partners coordinate and implement project activities locally.

With NASA support, the NISE Network developed physical kits containing hands-on materials and professional development resources that were distributed for free to local partners across the country in both 2017 and in 2023; these kits included resources directly connected to the 2017, 2023, and 2024 solar eclipses. The NISE Network also designed and implemented efforts to engage informal science education professionals on the strategies and practical ways to engage their local communities during solar eclipses. As with all NISE Network projects, evaluation played a key role in the development and refinement of all public and professional materials.

1.1. Participating Institutions

The kits and supporting professional learning materials were designed for informal science education public events and outreach in the United States. NISE Network partners who participated in the 2017 and 2023 solar eclipse events included informal science outreach and education institutions such as: science museums, science centers, children’s museums, natural history museums, planetariums, observatories, and NASA visitor centers. Although K–12 schools, afterschool programs, libraries, parks, and astronomy clubs were not eligible to receive physical kits, they were encouraged to download a digital kit and to collaborate with local NISE Network partners who had received physical resources. The NISE Network engaged thousands of informal science educators and hundreds of museums nationwide with participants from diverse communities in all 50 states and several US territories in this program.

1.2. Public Audiences

Hands-on activities were designed for family audiences of mixed-age groups with a range of experiences appropriate for visitors ages 4 through adult. Although activities were designed for use in informal science education settings as described above, they could also be easily modified and adapted for uses by other learning venues such as afterschool programs, camps, and youth serving organizations, as well as in formal K–12 school settings.

1.3. Development Process

The NISE Network’s educational materials are created through an iterative, collaborative process that involves professionals in the field of informal science education, scientists with expertise in the content area, and evaluation with targeted public audiences. This process helps to ensure that all programs, exhibits, and other products are scientifically accurate, represent best practices in educational product development, and are safe, effective experiences for learners of all ages.1

Development teams include professionals from museums across the country. The teams work together to make sure educational products achieve their educational goals, are well-crafted, and represent best practices. This collaborative development process also helps to create new knowledge to advance the field of informal science education and builds capacity at partner organizations. Products all go through extensive peer feedback with additional educators and scientists during development.

Scientists are involved throughout the creation of products, from the early conceptual development through prototyping and final review. Scientists help the activity developers to find interesting ideas and present them accurately and effectively. They also help the developers to communicate the excitement of this field of emerging science and give it a human face. All products developed by the NISE Network are reviewed by a scientist with expertise in the content area before they are distributed.

Products for museum visitors are prototyped and evaluated with their target audience as an integral part of the development process. This process includes formative evaluation and Team-Based Inquiry, an ongoing cycle of inquiry that empowers educators to get the data they need, when they need it, to improve their products and practices and effectively engage audiences (Pattison, Cohn, & Kollmann, 2014). Using both approaches helps ensure that programs, exhibits, and other visitor experiences are accessible, engaging, and educationally effective. Products go through several rounds of inquiry and improvement before they are distributed nationwide to NISE Network partners.

1.4. Learning and Content Frameworks

The NISE Network created a learning framework inspired by the six strands of science learning developed by the National Research Council (2009). Grounded in research, this document described key ideas, questions, and ways of experiencing content that would help visitors to learn, engage, and grow in informal science environments. The learning framework included three main ideas: phenomena, process, and participation and describes the intended actions of learners engaged with hands-on activities: 1) Experience Earth and space phenomena and explore scientific discoveries. 2) Use the scientific process and reflect on science as a way of knowing. 3) Participate in the scientific community and identify as a science learner.2 Each of these principles were derived from specific science learning strands from the National Research Council (2009).

Table of framework
Figure 1

The Earth & Space Learning Framework describes the intended actions of learners engaged with NISE Network hands-on activities and exhibition components based on the research, discoveries, and missions from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The three principles of the Learning Framework—phenomena, process, and participation—support six interrelated strands of learning documented by the National Research Council.

The NISE Network also created a content framework structured into six key Earth and space science content ideas — connected to the research priorities of the NASA Science Mission Directorate — for informal educators engaging the public. These ideas were incorporated to different extents in different activities within each kit.

Alignment with the learning and content frameworks was integral to ensuring that the activities not only engage learners but also covered content knowledge connected to NASA’s ongoing scientific work. To provide a clear and comprehensive summary of this alignment, we developed a detailed matrix that accompanied each kit. The matrix, which can be accessed on the NISE Network website, shows how each activity correlates with specific learning and content objectives, thereby underscoring the program's commitment to an effective educational experience Figure 2.3

Earth & Space Product Matrix shows the alignment of NISE Network resources to the three principles of the Earth & Space Learning Framework as well as the six key science content ideas of the Earth & Space Content Framework, and includes the year each was created and distributed.
Figure 2

The Earth & Space Product Matrix shows the alignment of NISE Network resources to the three principles of the Earth & Space Learning Framework as well as the six key science content ideas of the Earth & Space Content Framework. It also includes the year each kit was distributed.

This matrix effectively illustrates the correspondence between the activities and the respective frameworks, serving as a valuable tool for educators and stakeholders to visualize and comprehend the depth and breadth of the program's integration with these frameworks. The matrix, which can be accessed via the link provided (see footnote 3), offers an in-depth look at how each activity correlates with specific learning and content objectives, thereby underscoring the program's commitment to a structured and effective educational experience.

2. Program Activities

The NISE Network focuses on developing and implementing both professional learning and public engagement activities and apps.

2.1. Professional Learning Strategy

The NISE Network focuses on increasing the capacity of informal science educators to engage public audiences in their own communities. The NISE Network’s community of educators and scientists work together to create and share resources, knowledge, and best practices. Our professional learning resources and tools are designed to help support NISE Network partners and improve their practices and skills in effective public engagement around STEM.

Our strategy for developing professional learning resources related to the solar eclipses focused on:

  • raising awareness of the solar eclipses several years in advance of each celestial event,

  • collaborating closely with many other institutions and agencies who were developing public engagement resources for the solar eclipse to avoid duplication of efforts,

  • sharing high-quality, relevant solar eclipse public engagement resources created by other agencies and organizations appropriate for NISE Network partners,

  • encouraging collaborations with and raising awareness of local subject matter experts,

  • developing high-quality hands-on activities that can be used in a variety of settings and adapted for different audiences,

  • evolving and updating resources on subsequent eclipses moving through 2017, 2023, and 2024, including an editable slideshow presentation for public and professional audiences, and

  • developing digital apps to extend experiences at home, and providing accessible routes to real NASA data on the Sun.

2.2. Webpage of Resources

The NISE Network gathered a wide variety of solar eclipse public engagement resources and made them available on the NISE Network website.4 A solar eclipse-themed page was designed as a one-stop location for museums and science center educators to find the right resources to engage their local community. Resources were organized by format (rather than by the creator) and were categorized in a way to be most accessible to informal science educators. This includes designating categories such as hands-on activities, presentation slides, posters, imagery, multimedia, videos, citizen science, and event planning. Some of these resources were developed by the NISE Network, but most resources were developed by other organizations including NASA, American Astronomical Society (AAS), the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA), STARnet Solar Eclipse Activities for Libraries (SEAL), Exploratorium, and the Astronomical Society for the Pacific (ASP).

2.3. Online Workshops

The NISE Network’s series of online workshops and professional meetings created opportunities for partners from across the United States to share, collaborate, and generate new ideas and professional learning opportunities.

Multiple online workshops were held prior to each of the solar eclipses covering content such as the science of eclipses, safe viewing practices, event planning and logistics, live streaming, strategies for adapting programing during cloudy or inclement weather, finding and collaborating with local subject matter experts, citizen of community science opportunities, and community collaborations. Event planning workshops were designed for partners across the country, regardless of their proximity to the path of totality. We estimate that 20 NISE Network workshops included solar eclipse resources and six focused entirely on solar eclipse public engagement planning.

Workshops included guest presenters from many agencies, organizations, and projects including NASA, NSTA, GLOBE Observer, Eclipse Soundscapes, Exploratorium, Space Science Institute, STARnet SEAL, Night Sky Network, and Solar System Ambassadors. Workshops also included opportunities for museums to share their own plans and experiences, ask questions, and brainstorm ideas for future solar eclipse events.

Over 700 attendees across the United States participated in the NISE Network's workshops specific to preparations for the solar eclipses during 2017, 2022, and 2023. For those not able to attend in real time, recordings of all the online workshops were made available on the NISE Network website and on Vimeo. Recordings were shared through social media channels, professional associations, and the NISE Network newsletter.

2.4. Editable Slide Presentation

Many NISE Network partners requested an editable slideshow to use with a variety of audiences in different settings. In 2017 the NISE Network distributed “Preparing for a partial eclipse: An event to remember,” developed by NASA Night Sky Network and Astronomical Society of the Pacific. In anticipation of the 2023 and 2024 solar eclipses, the NISE Network updated and expanded the successful 2017 slideshow into an editable slideshow that includes detailed presenter notes for informal science educators to use with staff, volunteers, and public audiences. The slides were designed to be flexible and easily adaptable for specific partner needs. The key aspects of the editable presentation include what are solar eclipses, how to enjoy a solar eclipse safely, and solar eclipse resources for everyone Figure 3. 5

Slide from the presentation Preparing for a Solar Eclipse featuring an photo of the dark Moon creating a partial eclipse of the Sun.
Figure 3

Overview slide from the “Preparing for a solar eclipse” editable slide presentation featuring a photo of the dark Moon partially eclipsing the Sun. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

2.5. Professional Conference Outreach

The NISE Network also strove to promote awareness of the upcoming solar eclipses and resources for engaging public audiences through activities at professional meetings and conferences attended by museum, science center, and planetarium professionals. These included sessions with colleagues, booths showcasing resources, speaking with attendees about resources and professional learning opportunities, and distributing literature. Conferences attended included the Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC) Annual Conference, the Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) InterActivity conference, STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practices (SLECoP) convenings, Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) meetings, Southeastern Planetarium Association (SEPA) conferences, and the Astronomical League Convention (ALCon).

Conference sessions provided opportunities to collaborate with other projects and organizations to promote various activities for deeper engagement, including citizen and participatory science projects as well as collaborations with expert groups such as amateur astronomy clubs. For example, at the 2023 ASTC Annual Conference in Charlotte, NC, the NISE Network collaborated with presenters from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Space Science Institute, Sonoma State University, and the NSTA to share resources available to participants; these sessions also included opportunities for participants to share their own experiences and plans.

2.6. Collaborating with Local Experts

Volunteer experts are a key ingredient to many successful public engagement efforts. The NISE Network strongly encouraged partner institutions to collaborate with local Earth and space science professionals and science enthusiasts in their area to connect their audiences with local expertise (McCarthy & Porcello, 2021). Detailed information was provided in the kit application materials, the kit planning guide, newsletter, emails, and online workshops about how to find and work with local experts including NASA Solar System Ambassadors, Night Sky Network amateur astronomy clubs, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Astronomy Ambassadors, and faculty, staff, and students from local colleges and universities. Planning ahead was essential since so many experts chose to travel to the path of totality for the 2017 solar eclipse and were not available to attend events in their hometowns. Taking the lessons from various online professional learning workshops and in-person forums, the NISE Network developed and published a guide to assist informal educators to find and partner with experts, with a strong emphasis on Earth and space science content.6

Working with STEM Experts Guide cover including an image of expert  pouring a liquid and using a strainer with a girl and her family at a museum public event.
Figure 4

Cover of “Working with STEM Experts: A Guide for Educators in Museums and Other Informal Learning Settings.” Credit: Marbles Kids Museum.

2.7. Public Engagement Activities and Apps

The NISE Network created and distributed physical kits that included resources to prepare informal educators in museums to engage their communities during the solar eclipses.78

2.7.1 Kit Contents

The 2017 physical kits included:

a) nine hands-on Earth and space science activities heavily focused on heliophysics and solar eclipses with three of the activities providing context for interpretating solar eclipses (Figure 4, Figure 5, and Figure 6, “Exploring Earth: Bear’s Shadow”9, “Exploring the Solar System: Solar Eclipse”10, and “Exploring the Solar System: Big Sun, Small Moon”11),

b) professional development materials including facilitation and content training videos, activity facilitator guides, and orientation slides,

c) event planning guides,

d) promotional materials for local events and for the digital apps to extend learning experiences at home,

e) tactile resources including the Getting a Feel for Eclipses tactile book from the College of Charleston in South Carolina designed to help all audiences, including blind and visually impaired participants, better understand solar eclipse events, and

f) additional solar eclipse resources, namely Preparing for a Partial Eclipse: An Event to Remember slideshow presentation created by the NASA Night Sky Network and Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the book Solar Science: Exploring Sunspots, Seasons, Eclipses, and More book by Dennis Schatz and Andrew Fraknoi, safe solar viewing glasses, information about acquiring additional pairs of solar viewing glasses, eclipse- viewing pinhole postcards in English and Spanish, and an educational poster about the geometry of a solar eclipse.

Child with flashlight, Moon and Sun
Figure 5

Exploring the Solar System: Solar Eclipse is a hands-on activity demonstrating how the particular alignment of the Sun, Earth, and Moon can cause an eclipse. Learners investigate the positions of these objects to create shadows and learn about solar eclipses. Credit: Science Museum of Minnesota for the NISE Network

Kids playing with a flashlight
Figure 6

“Exploring the Solar System: Bear’s Shadow” is a hands-on activity designed primarily for young visitors and their families. Participants move a flashlight around an object to make and experiment with shadows. Credit: Science Museum of Minnesota for the NISE Network.

Girls with a tennis ball in her hand
Figure 7

“Exploring the Solar System: Big Sun, Small Moon” is a hands-on activity that explores the concept of apparent size and allows visitors to experience this phenomenon using familiar objects: a tennis ball and a beach ball. Participants learn that the Sun and Moon appear the same size in our sky because although the Sun is much bigger than the Moon, it is also much farther away. Credit: Science Museum of Minnesota for the NISE Network.

The 2023 kit included three new hands-on STEM activities based on NASA's continuing pursuit of human exploration of the Moon and Mars and resources on the upcoming solar eclipses. This physical kit was designed to complement existing Earth and space science activities previously distributed by the NISE Network.12 Solar eclipse materials in the kit directed recipients to the NISE Network website for additional digital downloadable resources, reminded partners about activities they may have already received, promoted safe viewing with the inclusion of solar viewing glasses, and included an updated Getting a Feel for Eclipses tactile book with the 2023 and 2024 eclipse paths. Physical and digital resources were also shared to leverage local partnerships to engage diverse audiences and support at home STEM learning beyond museum walls through digital apps.

Both the 2017 and 2023 kits included all the materials necessary to run an activity (with the exception of water, ice, and equipment to be obtained by the facilitator such as tables). For example, the “Exploring the Solar System: Solar Eclipse” activity came with models of the Earth and Moon, a pump to inflate the Earth beach ball, a cone for the Earth ball to rest on, a flashlight, information sheets, and activity and facilitator guides. The facilitator guide outlined the learning objectives, listed the necessary materials, provided facilitation tips and some misconceptions learners might have specific to that activity, along with suggestions of where to find additional training resources. The professional learning resources included two training videos individually created for each of the hands-on activities. The first video ran through the activity materials and included step-by-step facilitation tips with an educator. The second video featured a scientist presenting the Earth and space science connected directly to the activity.

For both kits, all materials for public audiences (e.g. physical resources, digital assets, apps) were provided in both English and Spanish languages. Digital versions of all kit materials are available online for anyone to download at no charge and use with their own audiences. Resources are designed to be easily adapted and modified for different audiences and settings, and the NISE Network encourages adaptation for local needs with a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) license.13

2.7.2. Physical Kit Award Process

Through competitive application processes, the NISE Network awarded physical kits to eligible informal science education institutions across the United States; 250 kits were awarded in 2017, and 350 in 2023. Physical kit recipients were required to host a public engagement event and were encouraged to use their activities all year during STEM educational events and other programming for public audiences, particularly during the total and annular solar eclipses, respectively.

2.7.3. Apps

To complement hands-on activities offered within museum walls and extend learning beyond museum community outreach programs, the NISE Network also focused on developing two apps to extend family learning at home.

The DIY Sun Science app14 was designed to make it easy for families and educators to learn about the Sun and includes 15 easy-to-use hands-on activities and a live-data connection (Figure 8). This app allows users to view live images of the Sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite in the Sun Observatory and see awe-inspiring images and videos of the Sun from different NASA Earth and space-based observatories. The app was promoted to recipients of the 2017 and 2023 kits through professional learning resources and opportunities. The NISE Network updated the app in 2022 with new activities connected to aurorae and the Moon and added a full Spanish translation and Android version to increase learner accessibility.

The DIY Solar System app15 was developed to easily connect learners to the solar system through 11 easy-to-do activities about space travel, living in space, and the unique objects that make up our planetary system. This app also incorporates an augmented reality (AR) planet walk in which learners can drop a scale version of the solar system anywhere and walk through it.

Both apps are available in English and Spanish on iPhones/iPads and Android devices and provide learners with more info about the Sun and its important relationship with Earth. Both apps include step-by-step activity instructions with original photos and provide learners with NASA connections to each activity. All activities and interactives in the apps have been tested by educators, kids, and families. Supplies for activities are common, inexpensive items found in most households.

A collage of children using a hands-on activity overlaid with a screen shot of DIY Sun Science science app with activities and images of the Sun.
Figure 8

A photograph of children completing a hands-on activity. The overlay shows a screen shot of the DIY Sun Science app (in Spanish) with activities and images of the Sun.

3. Methodology

To assess the use of resources developed and distributed by the NISE Network, project evaluators collected and analyzed data obtained from participants using a variety of methods to assess impacts on professionals, partner institutions, and the public. Extensive summative evaluation studies were conducted by evaluators focused on understanding the overall impacts of the NISE Network on professionals, the impacts of products on the interest, relevance, and understanding of public audiences, and overall public reach (NISE Network, 2019; NISE Network, 2021; NISE Network, 2023). Evaluation studies covered the NISE Network’s broader scope of Earth and space science and were not limited to just solar eclipse content and preparations. While results from the 2017 solar eclipse are available, a summative evaluation for the 2023 and 2024 public engagement activities and professional learning is still in the data collection phase; a final report and findings are not yet available.

3.1. Assessing Professional and Institutional Impacts

To assess the reach and use of materials, the NISE Network required reports from all kit recipients, online partners surveys, and other in-person opportunities. Surveys were sent to all recipients of the activity kits and focused on the use of public engagement materials and professional resources in their community.

3.2. Assessing Public Impacts

To assess public impacts of hands-on activities, the NISE Network and its evaluators conducted surveys, interviews, and observations with members of the public at sites across the United States. Surveys at 161 locations included open-ended questions about relevance and learning as well as close-ended questions about engagement, interest, and learning. Subsets of adults and children were interviewed about their experiences or were observed using the kit activities.

4. Results

Our goal was to engage public audiences in Earth and space science content, including solar eclipses, through hundreds of museums and science centers across all 50 states. This goal was achieved, with us reaching 250 communities in 2017, growing to 350 communities by 2018, and continuing to actively engage 350 communities into 2023 and 2024. Results described below are related to the 2017 total solar eclipse. Final findings for the 2023 public engagement activities and professional learning resources findings are not yet available (NISE Network, 2019; McCarthy & Jackson, 2019; NISE Network, 2021; NISE Network, 2023).

4.1. Public Interest, Learning, and Relevance

The 2017 summative evaluation found that family audiences enjoyed and were interested in the hands-on activities. Almost all adult visitors (95%, n=242) reported finding the activities enjoyable and interesting for their group (see Tables 9 and 10). Half (48%) found the activities “very enjoyable” for their group, half (48%) found the activities “enjoyable”, a handful (4%) found the activities “a little enjoyable”, and <1% rated the activities as “not enjoyable” (NISE Network, 2019; NISE Network, 2021).

Families reported statistically significant increases in their confidence in talking about heliophysics, Earth science, planetary science, and astrophysics content after participating in the activities (NISE Network, 2019). Learners also reported that Earth and space topics were more relevant to them after trying the activities (NISE Network, 2019).

Furthermore, the 2017 summative evaluation found that the professional learning materials increased educator confidence when engaging public audiences with Earth and space science content (NISE Network, 2021).

4.2. National Reach

The NISE Network distributed kits with public engagement and professional learning resources to all 50 U.S. states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories (Figure 9 and Figure 10) through competitive application processes.1617 NISE Network partners also reached local audiences across the country. The 2017 physical kits were found to have reached over 1.5 million members of the public. Public reach data for the 2023 kits are not yet available but are expected to be higher since a larger number of kits were distributed.

US map with dots
Figure 9

Map of the United States indicating the 250 “Earth and space” physical kit locations in 2017.

US map with dots on it
Figure 10

Map of the United States indicating the 350 “Voyage through the Solar System” physical kit locations in 2023.

Participating institutions were located in a variety of geographic settings: urban–large city (population: > 250,000 people; 30%), urban–mid-sized city (100,000–250,000; 22%), urban–small city (< 100,000; 28%), suburban (6%), and rural (14%). Collectively, they reported that they reach more than 54 million visitors a year on site plus additional visitors off-site (NISE Network, 2019).

In 2017, participating institutions reported that they intentionally reached or intended to reach the following local underserved audiences with their kits: girls (85%), people from low income / lower socio-economic background (82%), racial and ethnic minorities / communities of color (79%), rural residents (48%), non-native English speakers (40%), at-risk youth (39%), inner-city populations (37%), disabled / differently abled people (36%), American Indians / Alaska Natives (19%),and other underserved audiences (5%). Strategies and tips for collaborating locally to reach different audiences were shared in each kit’s event planning guide and through additional NISE Network professional learning resources and online workshops.

4.3. Using Kits Year Round

Over three-quarters of the physical kit recipients reported that they held August 2017 total solar eclipse public engagement events. In addition to events on August 21, 2017, during the total solar eclipse kit recipients were encouraged to use their kit all year, during celestial events, STEM educational events, and other public programming. Institutions receiving physical kits in 2017 reported the following ways they were using or planning to use the kit activities during the rest of the year: ongoing programming at their facility (95%), special one-time events (68%), summer camp programming (63%), community events (56%), family science nights (55%), K-12 school outreach (49%), collaborations with local youth service organizations (e.g. 4-H, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts, Girls Inc., Parent Teacher Associations or PTAs, the Y, YWCA; 42%), celestial events (such as star gazing, meteor showers, and Moon viewing; 44%), home school programs (40%), afterschool programming (38%), library outreach (32%), and adult-only events (16%) (McCarthy & Jackson, 2019; NISE Network, 2019).

5. Discussion

Although we have evaluation results for 2017, we are still in the data collection phase for the 2023 annular solar eclipse. Despite this, given the immediacy of the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse, we wanted to share our strategies, experiences, and results to date in order to support other groups working toward 2024 total solar eclipse planning and engagement. As of writing of this paper, more than half (64%) of NISE Network partners have submitted their 2023 report. Of these submissions, 80% of partners said that they plan to use the 2023 kit resources during their 2024 total solar eclipse events.

With such a high number of partners planning to use these resources again for the 2024 total solar eclipse, the NISE Network hosted a January 2024 online workshop to provide a place for partners to share experiences, brainstorm ideas, and ask questions about their colleagues past solar eclipse experiences and their plans for 2024. We look forward to our continued work with partners in the months to come to ensure we use this double solar eclipse (October 2023 and April 2024) viewing opportunity to leverage community interest and investment in learning more about this content.

5.1 Lessons Learned

Throughout this project several lessons have emerged that could be useful to other professional communities considering future national public engagement on different STEM topics, events, and celestial events:

  • It is important to value a network infrastructure and nurture relationships,

  • Actively engaging with partners requires frequent online touchpoints, including newsletters, downloadable resources, online workshops, social media, and a consistently maintained website,

  • Foster new relationships and continually update records to maintain good contacts at each partner organization. (This was exacerbated by the global pandemic that occurred between the 2017 and 2023 solar eclipses across North America.),

  • Attending conferences where our partners already convene allows us to remain visible to our partners,

  • Maintaining an archive of just-in-time professional learning resources, such as online workshop recordings and training videos on our website, ensures access to these materials,

  • Financial support to develop and distribute physical activity kits greatly enhances interest and participation by our partners, especially for those at smaller institutions with limited resources for public engagement and professional development,

  • Online workshops are most successful when partnering with organizations that can assist in promoting the workshops and addressing community-specific needs, and

  • It is critical to listen to partners to be able to provide useful resources that met their individual and organizational needs, goals, and constraints.

More details about lessons learned from creating and maintaining a national scale network may be useful for other projects (Bell & Olney, 2017).

6. Conclusion

The August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse and October 14, 2023 annular solar eclipse provided extraordinary occasions to energize and engage public audiences in Earth and space science, and the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse promises the same. The NISE Network has worked alongside a rich community of education professionals, scientists, professional organizations, government agencies, amateur enthusiasts, and many others to engage the public in these unique celebrations. Through the NISE Network’s efforts, many informal educators were better prepared to plan and host public events and increased their capacity to engage their local audiences in these exciting events. The NISE Network’s professional development efforts enabled many museums on and off the path of totality to take advantage of the wide variety of resources available, such as free or low-cost approved solar viewing glasses, live streaming the eclipse, and many other resources. Additionally, some NISE Network partners participated in other large-scale nationwide efforts like the high-altitude balloon citizen science project, the Eclipse Megamovie, iNaturalist Life Responds app, and Eclipse Soundscapes and GLOBE Observer citizen science projects. Working in tandem with these other efforts, museums across the country were able to be a source of trustworthy accurate information in advance of the event and provide locations for safe viewing during the event. The NISE Network is grateful for the support of NASA to champion this incredible and exciting opportunity.

People looking up with solar safety glasses on
Figure 11

A crowd of museum visitors safely viewing the 2017 solar eclipse at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Credit: Science Museum of Minnesota for the NISE Network.


This material is based upon work supported by NASA under award number 80NSSC21M0082 and cooperative agreement award numbers NNX16AC67A and 80NSSC18M0061. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

This work would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of many organizations, agencies, and projects working together. We are grateful for all the efforts of our partners to engage the public in STEM. Through the diversity of our partner organizations, the NISE Network has broad geographic and demographic reach across the country and a powerful impact on communities across the United States.

No comments here