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

Tuesday, 24 January 2012: 11:30 AM
Using Forecasting and Case Study Activities to Help Teach a College Level Introductory Weather Course
Room 348/349 (New Orleans Convention Center )
Emily Berndt, Saint Louis Univ., Saint Louis, MO

It has been shown by Suess et al. 2011, Bond and Mass, 2009 and others that using forecast activities can be an effective way to teach the concepts of meteorology. The author used Forecast Central both in the context of case studies and real-time forecasting to help reinforce the basic meteorological concepts taught in several introductory meteorology courses beginning in the Spring 2011 semester. The goal of using Forecast Central was not to assess forecasting skill, but rather student learning through a forecasting framework. The forecasting contest approach was used at Saint Louis University and a case study approach was used at Southwestern Illinois College.

Forecast Central is a website designed to promote inquiry-based investigation of weather in the classroom. It can be used either as a real-time forecasting contest or within the context of case study analysis. Forecast Central is meant to promote scientific inquiry by encouraging students to be aware of the environment around them. Yarger et al. 2000 states “developing a forecasting framework in which all activities have prediction as an underlying goal, students can form a recurring and authentic link to key scientific processes.” One goal of Forecast Central is to give teachers and students the tools they need within the framework of the website. Therefore, the student can use observational data, the knowledge base of science, and the processes of reasoning to make predictions and receive reinforcement from the verification of their forecasts.

During the Spring 2011 semester, the contest component of Forecast Central was used in an introductory meteorology class for non-meteorology major students at Saint Louis University. Forecast Central was presented to the class as an opportunity to analyze real-time data in conjunction with lectures about forecasting. The forecasting lectures concluded a series of chapters covering air masses, fronts, and mid-latitude cyclones. Therefore, the forecasting competition was an opportunity to apply these concepts. There were a total of 69 participants including the author and two teaching assistants out of a total of 92 students enrolled in the class. The class forecasted for Saint Louis, MO, during an active weather week, so students had the opportunity to forecast for a variety of different weather scenarios. The second week consisted of fair weather and the students could see the difference in skill and ability depending on the weather regime.

Forecast Central was also used as a tool for case study analysis during the summer 2011 semester at Southwestern Illinois College. After learning about air masses, fronts, and midlatitude cyclones the students were given a case study to identify features on weather maps and make their own forecast. The developers of Forecast Central designed a webpage within Forecast Central about the East Coast snowstorm of February 2010. The page included instructions as well as information about the storm's meteorological setup and history, forecast maps, and a place to submit a forecast. The students were given a blank surface map on which they needed to forecast the position of the surface low and fronts. Then based on their forecast position of surface features and other analysis maps, they needed to forecast the high and low temperature over the next 42 hours as well as the total liquid equivalent precipitation and snowfall for Baltimore, Maryland. After students submitted their forecasts, they were shown surface maps to demonstrate the storm's progression and storm total snowfall from the local National Weather Service page. Students were enthusiastic about the activity and realized the complexity of forecasting in the process of their own analysis.

The initial evaluation showed the forecasting contest to be more helpful in teaching basic identification of surface features and how they impact the environment. It also demonstrated the complexity involved in forecasting and the dynamic nature of the atmosphere. The forecasting contest gave students a context and application for the concepts such as air masses, fronts, and precipitation. The case study approach was useful in tying together similar topics, but it was more useful in teaching the hazards associated with high impact weather and the life cycle of midlatitude cyclones. The case study approach can give the students a larger view and extent of a storm's impact.

Forecast Central is a valuable tool to help students understand difficult concepts by analyzing real-time data on their own whether by case study analysis or a forecasting competition. Using both teaching techniques of the contest and the case study encourages students to be more aware of the weather and to look at the environment around them with a scientifically critical eye. The students who said they did not like science seemed to learn more using Forecast Central than with traditional methods. A tool such as Forecast Central helps students to reinforce class concepts through exploration of real-time data they can analyze and explore on their own.

In the Fall 2011 semester both the case study and forecasting approach will be used in a large introductory meteorology class. In order to assess the benefits of the case study versus forecasting contest a comparison of the two approaches in teaching meteorological concepts will be evaluated using more formal evaluation of student learning similar to Suess et al. 2011. In addition, with a more robust use of Forecast Central during the Fall 2011 semester, test scores will be compared to past semesters to assess whether the use of Forecast Central in the classroom enhances student success. Results will be tallied and included in the presentation.

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