Scientists at UCLA in Los Angeles have sent magnetometers to students in Joshua Bishop’s math classes at Madison Junior Senior High School in Madison. Bishop and his students are planning to use the devices to measure the Earth’s magnetic field during Monday’s total solar eclipse. Joshua Bishop photo

MADISON — Math teacher Joshua Bishop eagerly waited for a magnetometer to arrive in the mail. It came Wednesday, all the way from Los Angeles and in time for Monday’s total solar eclipse.

Bishop and his students at Madison Junior Senior High School are among the schools collaborating with UCLA to set up the device to measure the change in Earth’s magnetic field during the event.

Schools across central Maine have prepared in different ways for the once-in-a-generation event. Some are having solar eclipse watch parties or releasing students early for safety reasons. Schools in Jackman will close for the day. At some schools, teachers, including Bishop, are helping students take part in a real-time science experiment.

“They might not know the details exactly of the magnetometer, but they think it’s cool, especially to have the ‘big UCLA’ sending us stuff to little Madison, Maine,” Bishop said. “I tell them that even though we live in a small town, we have an opportunity to do cool things.”

The data collection is part of UCLA’s SMART Project, which gives students and teachers across the country the opportunity to participate in science experiments. The pocket-size device will immediately send the data through Wi-Fi to scientists in Los Angeles, who will then send all of the national school data back to the schools, including Bishop’s math classes, which include seventh to 12th graders, to study.

Bishop said he believes Madison is the closest location in the study to the path of totality, which is the moment or duration of total obscuration of the sun or moon during an eclipse. In astronomy, obscuration is the concealment of a celestial body by the passage of another between it and observers.


Madison-area Maine School Administrative District 59 is expected to experience a nearly total eclipse, at a magnitude of 99.5%.

“Just because we are in Madison doesn’t mean we can’t have a big impact,” Bishop said.

At the Richmond School Department, Jen Thompson, who teaches science to sixth through eighth graders at Richmond Middle School, incorporated lesson plans last week that focused on the impending eclipse.

Thompson’s students have learned the science behind a total solar eclipse, which is when the moon passes between the Earth and sun, blocking the sun for a short time and preventing sunlight from reaching Earth.

Thompson’s students have also learned how to view the eclipse properly and safely, which should only be done while wearing eclipse glasses. Like many school districts, the Richmond School Department has bought the glasses for students.

Thompson is encouraging her students to listen to the differences in nature when the sky goes dark for about three minutes. Thompson said birds might stop singing, animals that are nocturnal might become active and crickets could begin chirping — in areas not covered by snow.


“We are using resources put out by the Maine Department of Education, and we are also using information that NASA has published for middle school science students,” Thompson said. “We are talking about safety and not staring into the sun. Typically, we can see the corona of the sun and it’s not wise to look at the sun directly, we shouldn’t normally, but with this, it’s tempting.”

The Gardiner-area school district has announced it will release students early, at about 11:30 a.m., to avoid having them on the road during the eclipse, when students would usually be riding on school buses.

“The early dismissal will ensure the buses are off the road during the full eclipse. We believe that this proactive measure will minimize any potential risks associated with having students on the buses during the eclipse. The bus driver would be the only adult present and ensuring student’s safety in such circumstances would be a concern,” Patricia Hopkins, superintendent of Maine School Administrative District 11, based in Gardiner, wrote in a letter to the school community.

Other school districts also plan to release students early, including the Augusta School Department; Maine School Administrative District 13, which serves Bingham and Moscow; Mt. Blue Regional School Unit 9, based in Farmington; and Maine School Administrative District 53, headquartered in Pittsfield.

Regional School Unit 74, which enrolls students from Anson, Embden, New Portland and Solon, is planning a full day of school, which is to include a solar eclipse viewing party.

The Richmond schools are planning to release students at 1 p.m., based on the recommendation of teachers in the district, interim Superintendent Bob Webster said.

Webster, who lived on his family’s farm in rural Maine during the last total solar eclipse in 1963, said he remembers the event clearly. He said his cows started to go back into the barn when the eclipse peaked.

“There’s nothing like this,” he said. “You remember where you are, and it’s a positive thing.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.