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.
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.
As you begin the new school year, you might like to know what other teachers are using in their classrooms. The following are NOVA Education’s 10 most popular teacher guides. They cover everything from dogs and fish to DNA and the miracle of life. You too might want to try them out!
Listed in order of popularity:
- Create a DNA Fingerprint—Create a DNA fingerprint and then compare it to the fingerprint of seven suspects to nab a perpetrator.
- Dogs and More Dogs—Learn through an evolution card game how selective pressures can affect an organism’s evolution.
- Treasures of the Great Barrier Reef —Classify fish based on their different characteristics.
- Cracking the Code of Life—Explore the process involved in sequencing the human genome by decoding simulated nucleic acid sequences.
- Super Bridge—Explore compression, tension, and torsion by constructing a spaghetti bridge that can hold a coffee-can-and-cardboard roadbed.
- The Missing Link—Collect, analyze, and interpret information about objects in order to classify them in a cladogram.
- Dying to Be Thin—Collect and analyze data about how healthy people are portrayed in the media. Use data to learn more about healthy lifestyles.
- Secrets of Lost Empires: II Pharaoh‘s Obelisk—Discover how levers work by raising a brick with shish kebab skewers.
- Life‘s Greatest Miracle—Identify the effects of maternal consumption of alcohol at various stages of pregnancy.
- World in the Balance—Calculate how long it takes a country’s population to double in size and investigate factors affecting growth rate.
What do you think? Have you used one of these resources before in your classroom? Or are we missing your favorite resource? Let us know!
Early in the morning on August 6, NASA’s latest rover successfully touched down on Mars to begin investigating the planet’s habitability. The rover, Curiosity, will use an array of instruments to figure out if the Martian environment was ever able to support microbial life. As Curiosity searches for signs of life on the red planet, you may wonder how you can bring the search for life into your classroom. The NOVA Education team has developed a collection of flexible resources to help you turn this exciting space mission into a teachable moment for your students.
© 2011 WGBH Educational Foundation
In October 2011, NOVA premiered a two-hour special called “Finding Life Beyond Earth.” The program explores some of the dynamic environments found on other planets and moons that have helped scientists expand their ideas of what kind of worlds could support life. Using adapted NASA activities, NOVA Education developed a collection of resources based on the program with seven hands-on activities that explore questions at the heart of the search for extraterrestrial life, such as: What are the characteristics of life? Which planets and moons in the solar system are potentially habitable? How do scientists search for life in our solar system and beyond? The activities are designed to be extremely flexible—educators can mix and match them to help kids understand the biology, physical science, technology, and Earth and space science related to the search for life beyond Earth. Video clips accompany most of the activities to help visually support the concepts students will explore. We have also provided PowerPoint presentation slides that complement each activity in the collection to help assist with the flow of a lesson and further engage students in the subject matter. Each core activity takes between 15 and 30 minutes to complete; however, if you don’t teach in a conventional classroom setting, we’ve also adapted each activity into a shorter, condensed cart version that can be used in museum or event settings.
The NOVA Education team took these resources to the USA Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, DC, to share one of our favorite activities, “Home Sweet Home.” Kids were given a “Creature” card describing one of six possible planetary environments and asked to invent a creature that could thrive in the conditions outlined on the card. The goal of the activity was to introduce kids to the factors to consider when thinking about the habitability of planets: Is there food to eat, gas to breathe, a comfortable temperature, and a way to move? The take-home message is that living things develop so that they can survive in a particular environment. A variety of materials were provided to help kids design their creatures—neon straws, beads, googly eyes, glitter glue, aluminum foil, bubble wrap, popsicle sticks, markers, crayons, construction paper, and more. I was impressed with how creative kids were in their use of these materials. Bubble wrap became a layer of insulation for creatures living in extremely cold environments; straws gave creatures special suction power to breathe gas; and aluminum foil created strong, metallic teeth that creatures could eat rocks with.
@ 2012 WGBH Educational Foundation
This is just one example of how to engage your students in the search for life. You can find the full “Finding Life Beyond Earth” Education Collection and the accompanying video excerpts here on our website. We would love to hear how you use these resources in your classroom. Join our educator community on Facebook and tell us what worked for you!