92nd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (January 22-26, 2012)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012: 9:30 AM
Engaging Students in the STEM Disciplines Using High Altitude Weather Ballooning
Room 348/349 (New Orleans Convention Center )
Jill S. M. Coleman, Ball State Univ., Muncie, IN; and M. A. Mitchell, K. Roebuck, and H. M. Rauwolf

Within the past decade, there has been much speculation on shortages of quality mathematics and science teachers in the United States. According to the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (Ingersoll and Perda 2009), the biggest concern for mathematics and science departments is that the amount of new teachers is hardly adequate to fill the gaps caused by turnover. Some candidates are under qualified; yet those qualified are not willing to accept teaching positions for various reasons. In order to help lower turnover and improve the quality and enthusiasm of incoming mathematics and science teachers, new approaches are needed. We propose integrating into pre-service teacher training programs the High Altitude Research Platform (HARP), a commercially available ballooning system that streams data down to earth from sensors that measure the atmospheric conditions as student designed experiments travel to near space. HARP enables teachers and their students in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) classes to engage in learning through unique real-world, hands-on projects using the atmosphere as a laboratory. In particular, HARP provides the opportunity for teachers to engage students in the scientific method by formulating a hypothesis, designing an experiment to test the hypothesis, performing the experiment during a balloon launch, analyzing the data, drawing conclusions, and presenting their findings. The first phase results of the 3-year HARP implementation program and plans for the second phase are discussed.

The main goal of the project is to design, evaluate, and distribute examples of how to integrate high altitude weather ballooning into elementary-level mathematics and science teacher education courses. The spread of this program will benefit education in many ways. Teaching majors will improve their scientific knowledge and teaching abilities which will enhance the enthusiasm, application abilities, reasoning skills, and overall appreciation for STEM educational experiences. Exposure to scientific research is beneficial at any age; however these grade levels are most favorable for captivating students and positively impacting their future career decisions on account of their openness to new ideas. There are not many programs that give students the opportunity to create their own experiments, based on specific questions that they formulate, and receive direct answers through an exciting hands-on experiment such as high altitude ballooning.

Implementation of the HARP program at Ball State University (BSU) in Muncie, Indiana consists of a two-semester model that begins in the spring semester of one academic year and ends the fall semester of the next academic year. In the first spring semester, faculty present undergraduate Elementary Education majors with the knowledge and technical skills necessary to successfully launch a high altitude balloon and interpret the resulting data. The pre-service teachers then collaborate with methods and content faculty from STEM related departments (e.g., biological sciences, mathematics) to create experiments that demonstrate fundamental features of the atmosphere and its interactions. The experiments are placed in pods (boxes) and fastened to the high altitude weather balloon. The balloon is launched into the atmosphere, tracked by GPS, and retrieved. Hypotheses are resolved through data analysis and mathematics and science lessons are created by the pre-service teachers from their experiences. In the following fall semester, the first draft of the High Altitude Balloon Curriculum is written and then trialed by the pre-service teachers in local middle schools where students create the experiments for the balloon launch, analyze the subsequent data, and share results through a poster or oral presentations. During the second iteration of the model, a second cohort of pre-service teachers will repeat this sequence of tasks and refine the balloon curriculum.

The first phase of the project at BSU included designing a new applications based course for mathematics teaching majors, planning lessons for the pre-service teachers, and learning the particulars of the balloon launch and retrieval process. In the 2011 spring semester, the first group of pre-service teachers (n = 40) was introduced to the HARP system and basic atmospheric principals. Student groups designed ten experiments to test the effects of changing atmospheric properties (pressure, wind speed, temperature, radiation, etc.) on a wide variety of materials, such as bacteria, egg whites, and seed germination.

The ten experiments were launched on April 5th, 2011 in a field located on the BSU campus. The pods were recovered within minutes of touchdown after approximately two hours of flight. Following the launch, twelve scientific lesson plans were created for educating students about the atmosphere with a final activity of launching a high altitude balloon. Since the mathematics related to atmospheric research can be more complex, the pre-service teachers focused on the tracking and recovering aspect of the launch; 16 lesson plans concentrating on circles, distances, and intersections using data from the GPS were created. Currently, the development of a virtual field trip program has also begun, comprised of two designs: a simulated launch experience and a real-time high-altitude balloon launch event.

Over the next academic year, the program will include middle school students of Burris Academy located on BSU campus. In the fall semester (2011), the first group of pre-service teachers will devise teaching lesson, implement them in 7th and 8th grade classes and modify the first draft of the curriculum. By the spring semester (2012), a second group of teaching majors will be introduced into the program and repeat the process into the following year. Faculty will amend the final balloon curriculum and the final curriculum will be distributed to teachers at schools across East-Central Indiana.

Ingersoll, R. M., & Perda, D. (2009). The mathematics and science teacher shortage: Facts and Myth. Retrieved from: http://www.cpre.org/images/stories/cpre_pdfs/math%20science%20shortage%20paper%20march%202009%20final.pdf

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