Using Real-Life Extreme Events to Increase Students' Scientific Literacy

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Tuesday, 4 February 2014: 4:00 PM
Room C109 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
James A. Brey, AMS, Washington, DC; and I. Geer, R. Weinbeck, E. Mills, and K. Nugnes

The AMS Education Program believes that students are truly motivated to learn when they can relate to the topic. That is why use of current, real-world data is vital to all three of the Education Program's courses. AMS Weather, Ocean, and Climate Studies are introductory, undergraduate-level courses that have already engaged approximately a hundred thousand students in the Earth sciences.

On the day Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey, the Education Program developed and made available an activity that investigated Sandy's vertical atmospheric structure. In addition, a later activity was created that explored Sandy's wind patterns about the eye. Students related areas of highest wind speed with locations that suffered the greatest storm surge inundation. Effects on wind speed of land versus ocean were also investigated using NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory data.

Another real-world example of an extreme event incorporated into AMS Education Program coursework is the Great Tohoku earthquake/tsunami event. Before the leading wave of the tsunami completely traversed the globe, AMS Education released an activity investigating the type of earthquake and the height of the leading wave of the tsunami that struck Japan. This same activity allowed students to analyze observed versus predicted tides in Crescent City, CA from NOAA's National Ocean Service water level data. This allowed students to see firsthand that a tsunami is a multiple wave event, not just a single large wave. Activities associated with other notable events include the Moore tornado of 2013, the record-low Arctic sea ice, the 2011 record-breaking tornado season, and the Gulf oil spill and its connection with methane hydrates.

These activities, called Current Weather/Ocean/Climate Studies, are made available via the course website. Other course website resources include the Daily Weather Summary (AMS Weather Studies only), updated daily (during the fall and spring semesters) that provides a comprehensive analysis of the synoptic weather in the U.S. for the previous 24 hours, as well as historical weather events. The Weekly Weather/Ocean/Climate News is freshly prepared every Monday with important news from these sciences. Algebra- and calculus-level math applications, along with access to COMET modules, chapter self-test questions, and geoscience career information are other resources found on the course website. Additionally, the site contains links to numerous external sources that further engage and educate students. In essence, the course website is a one-stop shop for students enrolled in AMS Weather, Ocean, and/or Climate Studies. The courses also include a full-color, 15-chapter textbook, and an investigations manual with 2 activities per textbook chapter.

AMS Education believes that all students should have access to this information, including those at minority-serving institutions (MSIs). With support from the National Science Foundation, AMS has partnered with Second Nature, the organizing entity behind the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), to offer the AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project. The weeklong workshop brings MSI faculty from around the country to Washington, D.C. to hear presentations from climate scientists and other high-level speakers from within NOAA/NWS National Centers for Environmental Prediction, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Howard University, George Mason University, among others. The faculty participants are also immersed in the AMS Climate Studies course materials, learning the content of the course as well as learning implementation strategies from other faculty experienced in AMS course implementation. Following workshop attendance, faculty work within their MSI to introduce and enhance geoscience curricula, thereby bringing change from within. They offer the AMS Climate Studies course at their campus in the year following workshop attendance, and are also encouraged to implement the AMS Weather Studies and AMS Ocean Studies courses.

Approximately 50 faculty members have attended the workshop within the past two years. The next workshop will be held in May 2014 with a subsequent workshop in 2015, with the goal of training faculty at 100 MSIs. The AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project follows the successful models of the AMS Weather Studies (2002-2007) and AMS Ocean Studies (2006-2008) Diversity Projects, from which more than 200 MSIs offered the courses to over 23,000 students. Many institutions continue to offer the meteorology and oceanography courses.

AMS Weather, Ocean and Climate Studies have been adopted by 770 institutions across the U.S., including 350 MSIs. AMS Education is working to interest more students in the Earth sciences by using current, real-world data. This will in turn, strengthen the pathway for all students to work towards advanced geoscience degrees and careers.