Facilitate Innovative STEM Education and Workplace Readiness with Weather Data

Having trouble engaging your students in STEM topics? Why not use the weather? This guide shows you how to facilitate innovative STEM education and workplace readiness using weather data.

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Introduction

math equation on a chalk boardIt’s not always easy to get students engaged in STEM subjects, right? Science, technology, engineering, and math are not “fun” topics for most students. In addition, these subjects and the skill sets required to teach them are constantly evolving.

STEM concepts prompt students of all ages to think deeply about critical, real-life problems and gain insights which will be incredibly important for their career paths. According to the U.S. Department of Education, this also encourages students to research, innovate, and educate one another. As parents and teachers, this is perhaps what we want most for our students.

Why Is Stem Important?

Three, young intelligent-looking professionals collaborating on laptopsMost educators understand the importance of STEM education. STEM education is essential to prepare K-12 learners for high-technology careers. In today’s day and age, all students will require a strong STEM foundation no matter what careers they choose.

Did you know that the U.S. Bureau of Statistics predicts that by the time today’s K-12 students hit the job market, 80% of jobs will require technical skills? Strictly STEM jobs – like biomedical engineers or software developers – are growing 1.7 times faster than non-STEM jobs, according to U.S. government data.


Did you know that the U.S. Bureau of Statistics predicts that by the time today’s K-12 students hit the job market, 80% of jobs will require technical skills?


There are plenty of other encouraging facts about the STEM job marketplace. For example, in the U.S., the average pay for STEM jobs is 70% more than the national average. Also, 8 out of the 10 most wanted employees, listed by the U.S. Department of Labor were the ones with STEM education.

Schools, parents, and educators cannot afford to let students miss out on a comprehensive and insightful STEM education.

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school classroomReal world learning is an overarching educational trend over the last decade. According to Advancing K12, closing the book (literally) and diving into authentic learning is important for students in the 21st century.

Hands-on opportunities can range from simple experiments for younger students, to vocational schools and apprenticeships for older students. In essence, providing the platform for students to connect learning concepts to real world problems develops critical thinking.

Another important trend in education is participatory learning for teachers. According to Pearson, prioritizing voice and choice in education should expand from just students to teachers as well. As you probably have already noticed, the “stand-and-teach” form of learning is no longer the most popular option among teachers today.

Instead, the more effective “guide-on-guide” instructional approach and open classrooms are becoming more and more prevalent. Of course this means that educational institutions need to invest in new professional development programs to help teachers nurture this new teaching dynamic.

Yet another major current trend in education involves encouraging students to become creators. Instead of just reading what’s on a page, it’s important for students to actively create new material, ideas, programs, and more.

 

What Do These Trends Have to do with STEM?

Everything!

STEM is all about real world connections, hands-on learning, and experiential instruction. All educational activities should prepare students for the workforce, but that hasn’t been the case. In 2016, the McGraw Hill Education 2016 Workforce Readiness Survey showed that just 21% of college students felt “very prepared” for a professional career. Considering the fact that STEM careers grow at a faster pace than other occupations, K-12 educators are best positioned to make strides in closing the “preparation gap.”

How do you, as an educator, fix this problem and better prepare your students?

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Weather and STEM Use Cases

Thunderstorm with lightningStudents are always talking about the weather. From complaining about temperatures outside while waiting for the bus to trying to figure out if Friday night’s big game will get rained out, or hoping for a snow day; it’s something that remains a constant in their lives from the time they can talk.

Though it may not be the first thing that comes to mind, weather provides a seamless way to combine these different STEM initiatives and current education trends to better prepare students for their future. What better way to turn small talk about weather into an avenue to spark a student’s interest in STEM with real-world applications?

Use School Data

It’s even easier to engage students in a weather-driven STEM participatory learning program when the weather data you work with comes from your own school weather station.

It’s hard to get students (or anyone, really) to care about the weather forecast from your nearest airport. This is especially true if you’re located far away. Hyperlocal weather data shows that weather points vary between your school and nearby cities, and what those differences can mean. It can inspire students to inventively connect their passions to the weather data and begin to think critically, which is a foundation of innovative STEM education.

Make Worldwide Connections

worldwide connections spanning the globeIt’s also important for students to understand how weather impacts the world. Weather literacy is emerging as an important issue in 2020. Over the past few years, weather seemed to  dominate the headlines year-round. Between devastating wildfires on the West Coast and extreme hurricanes in the Caribbean, Florida, and Texas, the weather influenced a lot of decision-making.

Whether it is from an economical, environmental or health related perspective, students need to be able to discuss weather events and understand their impact on a variety of different systems. There are plenty of ways to incorporate weather data in everyday learning. Through the rest of this guide, we’ll show you how some of our current partners are using the weather as an inspirational hub for innovative STEM learning, which leads to career preparedness.

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1. Coding & Communication Skills

It’s no secret that coding is trending as one of the most important skills for the future. According to Burning Glass, a leading labor market analytics firm, programming jobs are growing 12% faster than the market average.


Programming jobs are growing 12% faster than the market average.


Hand in hand with coding is communication. Digital communication often requires a mix of visual, written, and verbal representation skills of content and data. It’s important for people to communicate this data on a multitude of channels, including:

  • Web
  • Video
  • Social Media
  • Email
  • Mobile
  • Print Documents
  • Digital Documents

 

Coding Examples

A student coding on three different computersEverywhere you look today there are examples of data and communication, and that trend will only continue to grow. For example, the students at Morristown-Beard School, a private day school in northern New Jersey, combine these two disciplines and a few others into their Weather Services Club activities. This group of students from different backgrounds come together to explore the many components of meteorology using their school’s weather station and Sferic API.

Started by upper school science teacher, Jeff Yuhas, Weather Services has grown into an organization that the students manage. “They bring their own skills to the table and find a way to fit those skills into weather,” explains Yuhas. Students interested in both technology and communication noticed that other students didn’t always dress appropriately for the weather.


“They bring their own skills to the table and find a way to fit those skills into weather.”


With an open campus, Morristown-Beard School requires students to walk outside while changing classes. This can be a challenge for students who’ve forgotten their rain jackets on a cloudy day. Weather Services works to help their classmates by providing weather-information in real time. They manage a web page dedicated to providing daily and weekly hyperlocal weather forecasts using Earth Networks Sferic API, which allows them to gather data from any point in the world. The project involved the students adding the API code to the website and managing the site.

Knowing that not all students visit or even know about the site, Jayshon Dubose, a Weather Services member, started an Instagram account to post daily weather updates to students. This is a prime example of students with different passions collaborating to solve a problem and finding the best possible communication channels to distribute the solution to that problem.

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2. Engineering & Electronics

Another area where meteorological learning comes into play is engineering.

Engineering careers are on the rise. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a projected 4% increase in engineering jobs.


There will be a projected 4% increase in engineering jobs


While this number doesn’t seem like a lot, it shows that the need for engineers is ever-present and spans many different industries. Those industries range from agriculture to biomedical, and that’s where weather comes in. Using weather as a STEM education catalyst to prompt students to apply data to real-world problems, mimics the everyday life of engineers.

Weather & Engineering in Action

At C

engineering and electronics students working on robots

ardinal Gibbons High School in North Carolina, students in the “Intro to Engineering” class devote time every year to thinking about weather related problems. They focus on issues like the feasibility of wind and solar as a renewable energy resource in different geographical areas and how changing weather conditions can impact the production of those resources.

For example, there will be less solar energy harvested on a cloudy day rather than on a sunny day. With this knowledge in mind, an example of a participatory learning project could include developing weather forecast models that can maximize solar energy harvesting. Students could also work on a project that involves designing structures that can withstand different meteorological phenomena, like hurricanes, floods, and hail.

Building Their Own Weather Station

The students at Morristown-Beard School took their engineering skills to a new level when Weather Services built their own weather station. Working together with some of the experts at Earth Networks, students created their own weather station using a Raspberry Pi in 2016. Then, like all great scientists before them, the students tested out the weather station and compared it to their school’s Earth Networks weather station to see how accurate their readings were.

After a lot of hard work and dedication, the students completed their weather station and successfully took readings that were just a few numbers off their school’s Earth Networks Weather Station readings. Weather Services then presented their findings to younger students and meteorology professionals at the 2017 American Meteorological Society’s (AMS) Annual Meeting in Seattle. They were the only high school students to give an oral presentation at AMS.

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3. Experiment & Analytics

These various problem-solving and critical thinking examples using weather data naturally lead to experimentation, another key component in a modern K-12 education. Experimenting is critical for students studying science because it helps them understand information better through testing.

According to a UChicago-led study, brain scans showed that students who took a hands-on approach to learning activated sensory and motor-related parts of the brain when recalling those concepts later. Therefore, hands-on learning is such an important educational concept that meteorology can facilitate.

Mixing Weather & STEM at the Science Fair

At Jefferson Montessori School in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the annual science fair is an important event that encourages students grades 4 to 11 to try and solve problems in their community.

Last year, 9th grader Ryan Helmer was inspired by his school’s Earth Networks weather station to conduct a study on solar water farming for his community. To come up with his project idea, Ryan first identified a problem: the decrease in drinking water. “70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water but only 2% is freshwater,” Ryan explained. So he wanted to test if solar water farming was a viable solution for his community.

He studied the effects temperature and humidity had on water supplies with different materials in them. Carlsbad is far away from the nearest weather station, so having one at school was very important to Ryan. “The data really helped me because the observations were coming right from my experiment area. I was getting exact measurements, which was a lot more accurate than other stations on the outskirts of town.”

Real World Analysis

lightning striking over a mountainOn the other side of the country, Cardinal Gibbons High School, a public school in North Carolina, uses weather to invoke critical thinking analysis in students through STEM education. Science teacher Diane Ripollone not only devotes 4 to 5 weeks of coursework to meteorology, but also encourages students to monitor weather data all year long.

“If we have a storm roll through, I’ll show them the readings on and it’s up to them to identify the relationships between the different data points and what they observed.” This is important for students. According to the Next Generation Science Standards, analyzing weather data in tables and various graphical displays helps students identify patterns and make predictions.


Analyzing weather data in tables and various graphical displays helps students identify patterns and make predictions.


Jefferson Montessori Academy’s 7th to 12th grade science teacher, Carrie Thatcher, also appreciates the analysis opportunities Earth Networks offers her students. “It has brought the ability to teach the kids how to look at multiple areas of data and break that apart.” She is also pleasantly surprised with how engaged the students are. “Sometimes, we have to stop what’s going on, content wise, in class because they have so many questions about the weather and climate. Earth Networks has given us the ability to answer those questions immediately.”

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4. Leadership & Project Management

High school student who gained leadership skills through STEM EducationAt the end of the day, one of most powerful things weather integration can do for students is help shape them into leaders. With the growing relevance of climate studies and the need for renewable energy sources, today’s students will face tomorrow’s challenges head on. As educators, it’s important you prepare them by providing a solid foundational understanding of meteorology and all the skills weather tools can teach them.

Finding New Interests through STEM Education

At Morristown-Beard School, Weather Services co-presidents Rebecca Tone and Michelle Corcoran were never too interested in the weather. In fact, Rebecca admitted that if Mr. Yuhas hadn’t asked her to join Weather Services, she would have never thought of it on her own. While she thought she would pursue a career in humanities, Rebecca has a newfound love of science, as well as making connections between the classroom and the real world.

Not only is science a large part of these copresidents’ lives now, but they also have a lot of responsibility thanks to the club. The two are in charge of coordinating projects, updating Mr. Yuhas on any resources they may need, and preparing the presentation for the next American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting.

Inspiring the Community

While not a “co-president” of anything, Jefferson Montessori Academy’s Ryan Helmer has carved a way for himself as a community leader. His dedication to environmental problem-solving has made Jefferson Montessori Academy a central part of the community. According to his teacher, Carrie Thatcher, “Our town now gets its weather right from the center of town. We are a part of the bigger picture.”


“Our town now gets its weather right from the center of town. We are a part of the bigger picture.”


While the teachers require a science project and set parameters, they also encourage independent, creative thinking. Ryan brainstormed about his project, understood what would be feasible with the tools at his disposal, and managed a science project that got him into the state science fair. This demonstration of leadership and project management, facilitated by weather, will serve him well in whatever career he chooses.

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Thanks for Reading! 

While most students won’t grow up to pursue a career in meteorology, using weather tools to teach is all about increasing STEM education and their abilities to:

  • Gather, analyze, graph, and present data
  • Make real-world connections
  • Problem-solve
  • Multi-task

 

Jeff Yuhas has worked with Earth Networks at two different schools and there’s a reason he does so. “The skills they are developing: to be able to access, analyze, and present data in lots of different ways, will help them in any field after high school.”

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