125 Precipitating Change: Integrating Meteorology, Mathematics, and Computational Thinking

Monday, 8 January 2018
Exhibit Hall 3 (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Amanda Hendrix, Millersville Univ., Millersville, PA; and N. Marcum-Dietrich, C. Staudt, T. Moher, and M. Bruozas

Precipitating Change is a multi-week middle school curriculum unit which integrates learning in meteorology, mathematics, and computational thinking. The central goal of this project is to promote middle school students’ ability to apply integrated science, mathematics and computational thinking in the context of weather prediction. Two main computational thinking practices will be used. The first computational thinking practice involves collecting, interpreting, and representing data, while the second computational thinking practice involves evaluating data and forming predictions using computational models (Weintrop et. al, 2015). During the first computational thinking practice, students will use sandbox models to investigate a weather phenomenon. The underlying concept for a weather sandbox model is the notion of a parcel of air. The use of this concept allows for the consequences of vertical motion through varying conditions in the atmosphere to be observed. Students will also receive paper visualizations of weather phenomena during the first computational thinking practice. During the second computational thinking practice, students will use modified weather models with multiple representations and multiple variables to develop an explanation of a scientific phenomenon. Ultimately, students will be able to combine their understanding of weather phenomena with the output from the weather models to explain their prediction.

The curriculum is broken down into four distinct phases. Phase 1 involves exciting and assessing students’ prior knowledge. Students will explore a weather scenario in the classroom and they will identify the key variables of weather, including precipitation, temperature, wind speed, and wind direction. Upon completion of this activity, students will understand that the weather varies from location to location, that weather moves with the wind. Additionally, students will gain an appreciation for the use of a visualization as a representation of real space. Phase 2 focuses on students developing their toolkit and investigating the weather as a scientific phenomenon. Students will use a top-down model to understand three main weather variables- temperature, precipitation, wind speed, and wind direction. By the end of this activity, students will understand why the weather changes, the impact of terrain on weather, and what happens when two differing air masses collide. During Phase 3, students will use real-world weather models and will learn how to read a regional weather map, monthly data charts, radar and satellite imagery. Finally, Phase 4 involves students becoming a forecaster. Students are asked to apply their newly gained knowledge to a real-world situation and will ultimately decide if an outdoor event being held in their forecast area should be cancelled . Students are given a specific location and they are asked to make a one-through-five-day forecast and an hourly forecast given an augmented real-time weather model of the United States. After creating a forecast, students are asked to communicate their forecast to local decision makers. This teaches students that even if they create a perfect forecast, it can still have major consequences if it is not effectively communicated to decision makers.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1640088.

Weintrop, D., Beheshti, E., Horn, M., Orton, K., Jona, K., Trouille, L., & Wilensky, U. (2015). Defining Computational Thinking for Mathematics and Science Classrooms. Journal of Science Education and Technology. doi:10.1007/s10956-015-9581-5

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