Weather Station Provides Hands-on Instruction at Webster Avenue Elementary

Boston University School of Education fellow Thomas Hunt works with Webster Avenue third-graders as they record weather data.

Boston University School of Education fellow Thomas Hunt works with Webster Avenue third-graders as they record weather data.

As Rhode Islanders emerge from one of the coldest and the second-snowiest winter on record, the weather has been a popular topic of conversation for the past three months. Residents listened regularly for snowfall predictions and students eagerly awaited news of another school cancellation.

While roofs caved from the heavy snowfall accumulation and we wondered when the snow and cold would ever end, third-grade students at Webster Avenue Elementary School were carefully tracking the area’s wind, humidity and temperature to make weather predictions of their own.

The school’s third-grade teachers, Agnes Summerly, Filomena Johnston and Karen Bouthillette, are collaborating with a team from Boston University, led by doctoral student and School of Education Fellow Thomas Hunt, and Jennifer Roe of the district’s science education department to implement this GLOBE education initiative.

GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment) aims to make students globally aware of the Earth’s environment by studying weather systems and collecting real time weather data, according to Summerly. GLOBE is a worldwide, hands-on primary and secondary school-based science and education program, designed to introduce students to the study of Earth System Science. The program includes professional development for teachers who, when certified, can collaborate with other inquiry-based investigations of the environment and the Earth systems by sending their student-contributed data to automated stations that collect and send measurements to the GLOBE database.

GLOBE works closely with NASA, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the National Science Foundation in study and research about the dynamics of the Earth’s environment.

Through GLOBE and NASA, K-12 students are able to participate in satellite missions by collecting weather data at their school and submitting the data to GLOBE. NASA then uses the data to validate the operation of satellite sensors, according to Hunt.

“We are adapting and implementing lessons that will allow our third-graders to experience how science is applied in the real world,” said Summerly, who added that hands-on lessons, outdoor classrooms and interpreting data to real world applications are a major focus of the Next Generation Science Standards. Those standards are being piloted in Providence’s elementary schools this year.

This GLOBE partnership with Boston University was developed by Donna Casanova, science supervisor for Providence Schools and a GLOBE-certified instructor. Initial support for the project was provided by grants to Boston University from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and Schlumberger-Doll Research  for the professional development of teachers to implement discovery in the teaching of science.

The weather station was installed on the roof of Webster Avenue School in March 2014, while a small console in Summerly’s classroom tracks weather data. Every day, groups of students observe and record the weather data, such as the temperature, wind and humidity, that is shared with the class. Each student records the weather data on their own data sheets using Celsius degrees, which are used by scientists.

The students engage in discussions about temperature and the implications of the data they are collecting and record their observations in journals. As the program continues, students will add barometric pressure, precipitation and cloud cover readings to their data collection, using both the console and a GLOBE database.

“Students are very attentive,” said Summerly. “They are collecting data and adding predictions. They’re excited to learn something new.”

One Monday morning in early April, students were most interested in wind: why it is sometimes hot or cold, will it hit us if we go outside and why can you feel it but can’t see it?

Hunt is providing lessons for students on how to use the weather station. A good deal of math practice is involved as students calculate daily changes in temperature in positive and negative numbers and convert Celsius temperatures to decimals.

“It puts math in the context of a temperature. They’re applying math in a real-world situation,” said Hunt.

The math students are using is preparing them for middle school and even high school math as they convert temperatures to bar graphs and calculate changes, which have future applications for physics and calculus.

Third-graders in Agnes Summerly’s class with stickers provided by NASA for their work in recording weather data.

Third-graders in Agnes Summerly’s class with stickers provided by NASA for their work in recording weather data.

Students love the program, said Summerly, and are very independent in their work. “They understand the process and procedures and can really do it without me.”

Students have even taken the program home to do weather worksheets with their parents. Summerly said that assignment created even more enthusiasm about the curriculum and gave the students more confidence.

“One primary goal is to give the students a realistic exposure to science in the hope that they will continue to enjoy science and pursue it as a career,” said Hunt. “Even if students do not pursue science in the future, teaching them to gather information, recognize which information is relevant to whatever they are doing, and making decisions based on information and logical reasoning is an objective. These types of decisions will range from buying big-ticket items such as appliances and cars to understanding medical advice.”

Casanova said she is looking for additional grant funding to expand the weather station program to other Providence elementary schools.

“Our third-graders are doing a great job learning about Celsius, negative numbers and graphing,” said Summerly. “Students are determining specific changes in daily and weekly temperatures and will eventually recognize weather trends. They are also making the connection between science concepts and science practices. Webster’s third-graders are not only becoming globally aware, but they are also building a strong foundation in science for future learning.”

While no one wants to think about next winter’s snow forecasts, Webster’s third-graders will be ready to make their predictions.