Share it! Science : Weather: Authentic Science- Not Just Small Talk!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Weather: Authentic Science- Not Just Small Talk!

     What do you remember from your science classes? Film strips? Textbooks? Science Fair Projects? Did I even have science classes before High School? Yup. That is what I thought. If you are like me, most likely your passion for science was inspired early on by experiences outside of school. Although it might not be the case everywhere, in general I believe we have found much more effective ways to engage students in science. It is so important to get kids involved in authentic science projects where they are able to make meaningful, real-world connections. I was inspired today by an article on Eureka! Lab,  a feature of Student Science News on Teachers at the Governor's STEM Academy at a Harrisonburg, Virginia High School purchased weather balloon kits from Stratostar.  They used these kits to inspire their students in a wide range of concepts including atmospheric science, chemistry and engineering.
The Stratostar high altitude weather balloon kit is customizable to allow to for data collection in many different ways from weather conditions, to monitoring atmospheric radiation or even changes to the speed of sound as it moves through the atmosphere. The kits are customizable to fit the needs of the program. This particular school project got the kids so jazzed up they were willing to come in on weekends and take on the planning and execution of their weather balloon launch themselves! The big caveat here is the price tag of the kits. Running upwards of $12,000 you'll most likely need a sponsor or a good grant-writer to help fund a project like this. However, once you've obtained a kit, you can reuse many of the components. Although this particular kit might be out of reach for many of us, it begs the question- How can we find ways to connect students to affordable and authentic science experiences? The possibilities are out there!
      Studying the weather is an excellent place to start. We experience the weather each day and it will impact students throughout their adult life. Whether it is an impending polar vortex or a super storm, weather is an accessible real-life concept. I have incorporated the NASA S'COOL program into my 5th grade weather curriculum for several years. This is a free program that allows students to learn about clouds and their impact on weather and climate, while contributing data to scientific research. S'COOL, or Student Cloud Observations On-Line, teaches educators and students how to observe and identify cloud types to provide "ground-truth" data for the CERES (Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System) satellites. The CERES satellites are gathering data and cloud images from their orbit above the Earth's surface. This is only one side of the picture. Students collect and provide data from the ground, to corroborate what is seen from above, hence: ground truth. In combination you then see the whole picture. Students can learn a lot from clouds- including how to predict the weather from them. Once my class has collected data during a CERES satellite overpass they input it on-line and receive a report back. S'COOL requests students analyze these reports to see how their data matches (or doesn't match) the CERES data. It is a dynamic, authentic process. The coordinator of the project, Dr. Lin H. Chambers, is always helpful and at times has even sent the students messages about their data. Once we noted that it began to hail during an observation. Lin wrote back a simple "Be careful out there!" and the kids thought it was great. Knowing that they were sending their data to a scientist who then communicated back to them solidified that this was the real deal! 

      NASA S'COOL certainly isn't the only project out there to engage students in meteorology and atmospheric science. Digital weather stations can be great way to collect weather data and share it with others. Many schools have weather stations linked to Weather Underground so they can monitor, collect and share real-time data. Even something as simple as building a rain gauge can engage students outside of the classroom. We recently made one out of a transparent container with our Kindergartners and placed it by the walkway so they can see it as they leave school for the day. The kids are excited and inspired to check it each day, and it was virtually free to build. I repeat...the possibilities are out there!
      How do you involve your children or students in experiential science? Comment below!

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Weather Resources

Weather Wiz Kids- Activities and Info from Meteorologist Crystal Wicker

Weather Activities- excellent Lesson Plans from

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