The bulk of the work consisted of two tasks: interviewing local school superintendents to determine when they had snow days over the last ten years and searching the internet for snowfall records to try to correlate with school snow days. Then, they determined patterns between snow fall events and when districts cancelled school.
Having high school students doing this level of research provides many challenges, including time management, access to resources, and scientific knowledge that the students possess. In addition, there was no large grant available to do the work. All researchers worked on a volunteer basis and had to scramble for resources.
While it is hard to set aside large blocks of time, the fact that the advisor is able to touch base with the students on a daily basis helps move along the project. It is also an eager group of students working on the project. There was no course credit given for the project, and none of the students needed to do the work to meet any kind of requirement.
For snowfall data, the students were limited to on-line resources that are in the public domain. As they uncovered resources, primarily through NOAA, the type and format of the data guided how their results would be presented.
Throughout the process, the high school students had to learn about synoptic meteorology, forecasting snow, and how to use statistical methods to analyze the data. Most had at least some background in meteorology from the unit in the earth science course, but much had to be taught by the earth science teachers and members of the math department.
This project allowed a large group of students, with a wide range of talents and interests beyond meteorology, to get involved. Skills expressed in this project included data collection, communication, statistical analysis, and computer graphics. An interest in weather and snow storms is what brought students to the project, but these are the practical skills that are developed.
Students learned first hand how there is often a lot more data available than you need or can really use. Sifting through ten years of snowfall records was by far the most grueling task of the project, but gave the greatest appreciation for what is involved in a research project.
Communication skills were tested both in interviewing local superintendents and presenting the final results. Tact and patience was necessary as it sometimes took several reminders to get school districts to send us their snow day records. Then, once we had all this information, it had to be assimilated into a story that could be told on a poster.
None of the students working on this project had ever taken a statistics class. It was necessary for them to get tutoring from teachers in the math department to be able to make meaningful assessments of the data collected.
A key for the students poster presentation was figuring out how to display their results in a clear and visually appealing manner. One big advantage we had was the computer graphics talent in CCWS. (Our students created the Concord-Carlisle Student Chapter Poster that took home a second place ribbon at the AMS Annual Meeting in Seattle!)
There is no doubt that working on this project is an experience that many of these students might normally have to wait for until graduate school. While it may or may not lead these students on a path to meteorology, the team building skills learned along the way will serve them in any field they choose to study. In addition, presenting at the annual meeting and seeing their work along side that of college students will give them a tremendous boost of self-confidence.