12th Symposium on Education


Encouraging student involvement through use of basic probability forecasting games

Steven B. Newman, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, CT

Most students want to be able to forecast the weather accurately. Even before they’ve learned very much about the atmosphere and what makes the complex system of weather operate as it does, they want to know how to predict the weather. It impresses their parents and their friends, and makes them feel “important.”

Weather forecasting competitions have usually been part of upper level meteorology courses in many colleges and universities. The variety of such “games” ranges from simple forecasting of tomorrow’s basic weather type, to actual forecasting of the daily high and low temperature. But they can also be incorporated into secondary earth science courses with a minimal amount of preparation and training, and still provide a valuable ongoing exercise in the scientific method.

Two of the more skill-oriented types of weather forecasting games involve some sort of “probability” forecasting—i.e., the forecasters must give the probability, either in percent, or in chances-in-10, that a particular event, or events will occur during a given 24-hour period. Developed and used extensively at MIT, SUNY-Albany and Cornell University, these types of games rely on scoring systems that make it difficult to achieve a high score without showing some real forecasting aptitude.

Incentives for successful forecasting can go beyond the awarding of grades. In many cases, especially if the instructor is a skilled forecaster, additional incentives for beating the instructor, over the course of an entire semester (such as a free lunch, or a trip to visit a local TV studio and meet with the on-camera meteorologist) are enough to pique and maintain student interest, and ensure that forecasts will be made on a regular basis.

This presentation will illustrate the simplest type of forecasting "game" that can involve even beginning level students, and will show how the game accurately measures forecast skill. A second type of game will also be briefly discussed. Both types of game can be conducted with weather information that is easily obtained from newspapers or internet sources.

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Poster Session 2, University and Professional Initiatives
Monday, 10 February 2003, 2:30 PM-2:30 PM

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