No matter where you live in the world, you’ve probably experienced a weather phenomenon that has left a lasting impression on you. Growing up in Boston, I have many winter memories of impending nor’easters. I would be glued to the news every evening to learn about any storm developments—after all, school closings were at stake!
Today, Earth-observing satellites and other technologies are making it possible to track storms like these on your own, and NOVA’s Cloud Lab lets you do just that. The Cloud Lab is a digital platform that challenges students to classify clouds and investigate the role clouds play in severe tropical storms. Using data and imagery from NASA’s worldview, the Lab offers a unique environment where students can use their knowledge to track and predict the behavior of storms developing right now. I recently spoke with Boston’s 7NEWS Chief Meteorologist Pete Bouchard, who also served as an advisor on the Cloud Lab. Below you can read about how Pete got interested in meteorology, and why he thinks the Cloud Lab may help inspire your students to enter his field.
Q: How did you become interested in meteorology?
I’ve always had a fascination with weather. Since I was about 6 years old growing up in California, the weather has always intrigued me. Whenever it rained out west (a rarity at times) it always seemed like a major event—or at least it did to me. Of course, these were the days before the internet, so knowledge of the subject was limited. And I think the scarcity of information compelled me to learn more about it. Once I started down that path, I never looked back.
Q: How did you become a weatherman on TV?
It started in college. I took a course in TV meteorology where we were graded on our performance and forecasting ability. With close scrutiny, I honed my skills in front of the camera and upon graduation applied for TV weather jobs in New England. Luckily, I have been able to stay here for my entire career.
Chief Meteorologist, Pete Bouchard. Image courtesy of WHDH.com
Q: When you visit schools and talk to students about meteorology, what questions do you get asked most often?
Severe weather is the most often asked question. What is lightning? What are microbursts? How do tornadoes/hurricanes form? Can we get hit? I try to answer—and appease fears—as best I can.
Q: What do you think science teachers would be surprised to learn about weather and the field of meteorology today?
That it’s an evolving, young science. There are many things we’re learning. Climate is changing—how will it affect our future weather patterns? The models are getting better, but who has the best one? Long range forecasting is the holy grail. Are we any closer to making reliable seasonal forecasts? How will weather fit in the mobile world? Will apps replace the local weather person?
Q: Based on your experience as a Cloud Lab advisor, why do you think the NOVA Cloud Lab is a useful tool for teachers?
We’re stretched thin with our multiple responsibilities (to the internet, apps, newscasts, etc.) these days, so we can’t visit schools as often as we’d like. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to cancel a visit to a school over the past few years because of a pending storm. With the Cloud Lab, teachers can have a step-by-step tutorial of the processes and methodology behind one of the basic elements in weather: clouds. It’s like having a personal visit from a meteorologist!
Q: If a teacher is interested in inviting a meteorologist into their classroom to talk with their students, how do you recommend they go about doing that?
We have a section on our website where someone can request a visit. Most television sites have this. If not, email them directly and they should refer you to the right person.
This blog is part of NOVA’s Earth System Science Initiative. To find related resources, please visit NOVA Education’s Earth System Science Collection.
NOVA recently launched the Cloud Lab—an online interactive that enables authentic student research with scientific data. NOVA Education celebrates the release of this third Lab with a special blog series exploring the importance of Big Data and its implications for STEM education, starting with the following.
Big Data. If you haven’t already heard about it, your hard drive has. We are generating digital information at such a frightening pace that some scientific fields are now dealing with a “data catastrophe”—where more data is being collected than can physically be stored. In 2011, Science magazine explored the issues surrounding this increasingly huge influx of research data in a special edition. From this collection of articles reaching across a breadth of scientific fields, two themes emerged:
- Most scientific disciplines are finding the data deluge to be extremely challenging
- Tremendous opportunities can be realized if we can better organize and access the data. (Source)
It is this second theme of opportunity that I would like to explore through the lens of K-12 formal education and teacher Professional Development in a series of blog postings that I am calling Big Data in the Classroom.
But before I start throwing any facts and figures at you, here is a personal story about what this transition looks like to someone engaged in scientific research.
When I was an undergraduate physics major, I spent 4 nights in 1996 on a mountain in Arizona observing a few individual stars to research their variability. My method involved measuring the rate of incoming photons and graphing the data to generate a light curve for each variable star. Between weather and equipment issues, I was able to gather only a few hours of usable data over the course of four nights—thankfully this was enough to finish my senior research project.
Now, 1996 wasn’t that long ago (at least I like to tell myself that), but if I was doing research in astrophysics today, my methods would look quite different. Thanks to robotic telescopes and a fleet of different satellites, many sky surveys have gathered and stored spectra and images across multiple wavelengths of light, offering researchers large collections of data just waiting to be queried and downloaded. Gone is the image of the astronomer sitting with their eye to a telescope eyepiece. Now, I could simply go to the AAVSO or SDSS sites and download the data I need for my research. More importantly, I would never need to travel to a mountain, wait for good weather, or possibly even operate a telescope or learn a constellation!
But why should you, as a science educator, care about this? “Big Data” represents the fundamental evolution of the tools and methods of scientific research—and the gathering and availability of data is no longer the limiting factor. The Digital Renaissance is here, and in many fields there is now more data than scientists know what to do with. Adding to this volume of new digital data, there are also efforts to bring specimens that are currently deep in storage in natural history museums—called “dark data”— into the digital age, making their secrets available to researchers, to the general public, and to you and your students.
As a science educator, the implications of this sea-change in the very nature of scientific data and information touches everything from you and your practice, to what your students—future scientists or not—will face in their careers and lives. It also informs the very design of your classroom laboratory equipment and lessons, as well as your selection of professional development experiences. In the next blog in this series, I will explore some of the implications of “Big Data” for your classroom instruction.
To further investigate “Big Data” in science, visit:
Right now, this moment, as I type, off the top of my head, I can count at least 7 devices in my cubicle that require electrical energy in order to function. That’s not counting our office’s overhead lighting system, the heating, or any of the other building-wide stuff. I’m just talking about things I can pick up. My laptop, its external monitor, my phone, my other phone, the lamps that I use at night to keep my space bright and work-friendly, the coffeemaker that keeps me bright and work-friendly…every one of these things requires electricity, and I use each of them every day, for hours. Often, I use energy without even thinking about it. The bills are paid, and services keep coming, seemingly limitless in supply.
The truth, however, isn’t nearly so idyllic. In the United States, we burn more than 100,000 tons of coal and nearly 800,000 barrels of oil every hour of every day in order to meet our energy needs. Coal and oil are fossil fuels, and they are anything but limitless. What’s more, their conversion into usable energy pollutes our environment and is a contributing factor of climate change. Our energy needs only continue to rise as our society becomes more and more reliant on electrical devices, so one sometimes wonders why technologies like Sweden’s Lillgrund Wind Farm or the SEGS solar arrays in California haven’t been leveraged effectively to solve our energy problems.
With NOVA’s Energy Lab, students learn just how complicated our energy crisis is despite the development of new tools. Through a series of video modules, students hear just how energy is defined, and about how we convert energy from various sources into the kinds of power we need in our daily lives. Students explore the promise of renewable energies like wind and solar, but they also learn about the challenges associated with using those renewables on a larger scale.
Once students have wrapped their minds around the contexts of today’s energy landscape, they jump into the online lab space and learn firsthand how complex the battle for clean renewable energy is. The Energy Lab’s Research Challenge charges students with the task of building efficient new energy infrastructures for cities across the U.S. Students use real scientific data gathered from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to organize systems using renewable sources. There’s added incentive in this lab, as students compete with others to see whose designs can, given cost constraints, produce the most power.
As with all NOVA Labs, the Energy Lab includes an Educator Guide that can help you think of ways to use the Labs as a productive part of your classroom experience. NOVA Education has also produced a webinar to help walk teachers through the online resource.
All in all, the Energy Lab is a great opportunity for students to use tools provided by NOVA to learn through experience about the challenges of energy production and consumption. Far from being a service taken for granted on a daily basis, NOVA’s Energy Lab helps put energy usage in the foreground for future professionals, a space in which it will need to remain if those future professionals are to solve our looming energy challenges.