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A textbook free high school meteorology course

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Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 8:45 AM
A textbook free high school meteorology course
604 (Washington State Convention Center)
Jeffrey A. Yuhas, Concord-Carlisle Regional High School, Chelmsford, MA; and V. Tremblay

The fall of 2010 marks the beginning of the fifth year of the Meteorology program at Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS). It brings with it a marked change in the presentation of the curriculum: the course is going textbook free. It will take advantage of several on-line resources to bring current data and theories to the students, encourage the use of technology, provide content flexibility to the teacher, and do so at a lower cost when compared to keeping a set of classroom texts up-to-date. The course meets a wider range of Massachusetts State Frameworks through the use of on-line resources and activities.

There are three “stake-holders” in public education: the students (and their parents), the teachers, and the administrators (principal, superintendent, school committee, and ultimately, the tax-payers.) All three benefit from the “textbook free” approach. Students are now provided a timely, current, interactive way of learning that leaves them with tools they can use for a lifetime, as opposed to a book they either have to return, or likely will never use again. Teachers have a dynamic curriculum that is easy to shape and mold to their needs and in reaction to that day's weather. Administrators have a resource that is free, in many cases, and is continuously updated, relieving the budget burden of purchasing new textbooks every few years.

Traditional science programs are centered around a textbook, which, while it provides content and structure to the course, also introduces an inherent rigidity in what is offered. Students are given this resource, usually on loan from the school district, so it leaves the student as soon as the course is over. It is also difficult to find a book that covers what a teacher wants to cover, without having large sections of the book that are never used.

For the first several years of the course at CCHS, while a textbook was the focus of the class, there was a static feel to it. While students were learning the basics of meteorology (dew point, pressure gradient, cloud formation) they lacked the motivation and the tools to apply what they learned to their everyday lives and to continue following the weather after the class ended. Once the textbook was turned in, the weather experience ended for many of them.

Now, the students, who through Facebook, MySpace, and many other social networks are keyed into the use of the internet to gather information, are given tools that they will hopefully bookmark and use long after the course is over. Meteorology is a unique science in that it changes daily right outside the classroom windows, and students are provided the opportunity to explore their weather and learn why it changes from sunny, to cloudy, to rainy.

A student survey demonstrates the effectiveness in this method in engaging students, promoting independent learning, and instilling the desire and ability in the students to continue following the weather after the class is over.

The use of internet resources will, as much as anything else, make the course “nimble” for the teacher. With almost unlimited content available on-line, the teacher can react and respond almost instantly to student questions and weather phenomena that are currently occurring.

In addition to content, many sites that contain modules for students also have extensive resources for teachers to give them background on the subject and help them present the topic.

A prime advantage in the administration of going on-line for classroom resources is the cost benefit. Web sites are essentially free and are continuously updated. Class sets of textbooks can be over $100 per student and need to be repurchased on a regular basis.

The amount of content available on-line, some good, some not, can be overwhelming. The on-line course, when possible, follows the AMS Datastreme Atmosphere time line. This gives the teacher that needs it a rough syllabus to follow for the semester. Additional on-line resources include the AMS Datastreme Earth Climate System, COMET (by UCAR), National Weather Service's JetStream site, and Google Earth.

The AMS Project Atmosphere summer program introduces many new ways to use NOAA websites. On-line products than can be found on the National Weather Service (NWS), Storm Prediction Center (SPC), and National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) .

Resources are chosen in two tiers: those that are self-explanatory and require little previous content knowledge, like COMET and JetStream and those that require more meteorology background, like the SPC site. Commercial sites, like Accuweather and WeatherBug can provide forecasting sites for those teachers and students that are uncomfortable using the more “raw” sites.

A typical week in the class involves checking in on the current weather through the AMS Datastreme Atmosphere on Monday. Daily weather maps are explored focusing on the topic of the week. Additional information is obtained through COMET, JetStream, and other on-line sources. The week concludes with “Green Screen Friday” (Yuhas and Coffin, 2009), where students make a presentation based on what has been learned that week.

It is important to note that this improved classroom presentation does a better job of meeting state frameworks than using textbooks. Not only is this method more efficient at presenting key concepts from the state frameworks, but, as with the implementation of chrom-a-key presentations in the class, it also addresses the technology portions of the state frameworks.