Project 2061 Website Aims to Improve Knowledge of Weather and Climate

Project 2061, AAAS's long-term science literacy initiative, has launched WeatherSchool @ AAAS, a free online resource designed to help middle- and high-school students grasp key concepts related to weather and climate.

"In order for students to understand the big-picture climate change stories in the news today, we believed that there were some fundamental principles they needed to know first," said George DeBoer, deputy director of Project 2061. "Without a basic understanding of these principles, it's hard for them to understand what's being discussed."

The new resource was developed by Project 2061 and a team of experts in climate science and middle-school science teaching, with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

"Given the implications of global climate change, understanding the basics of climate science is a high priority for all students," said Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061. "These grants enable us to use data from NASA and NOAA global observations of oceans, atmosphere, land surface, and the biosphere to engage students in interesting real-world phenomena and to design activities to help them make sense of the phenomena in terms of the underlying science principles," added Roseman, who is also the principal investigator on the grants.

WeatherSchool @ AAAS serves as a tool teachers can use to improve existing lesson plans, or develop new ones, and as a resource that can be used independently by students. The website uses data provided by NOAA and NASA from weather stations, satellites, and other observation sites around the world between 1929 and 2010. Nine interactive modules help explain how time of the year, location, and elevation affect day-to-day weather.

With just a few clicks students are able to view weather-related data sets, use graphing tools, move though guided activities, take quizzes, and dig deeper into specific topics, like how seasonal changes in the relationship between the Earth and the sun affect hours of daylight, the maximum height of the sun in the sky, and the amount of energy a place on Earth receives from the sun.

Using this tool, students are also able to get a better understanding about how weather works in their neighborhoods as well as regions around the world. In one module, for example, students can explore the difference in daylights hours throughout the year between New York City and Plattsburgh, New York, cities separated by just a few hundred miles.  Then, moving near the equator to Colombia, they'll see that hours of daylight are fairly consistent year-round.

The new climate literacy tool is consistent with guidelines set forth by the Next Generation Science Standards, which encourage teachers to integrate science content with practices critical to exploring science.

"That's a major part of what we are trying to accomplish with this new tool," said DeBoer. "We're trying to integrate the core ideas that students are learning with the practices of science: generating data, creating graphs and tables, looking at relationships, and looking for patterns."

Primarily designed for students and educators, WeatherSchool @AAAS can be used by anyone with an interest in learning about the climate around them. "With just a little bit of guidance, you can get a lot from this," said DeBoer.

The project was funded by a NOAA Environmental Literacy grant and a NASA Global Climate Change Education grant.

[Credit for associated teaser image: Flickr/Luis Argerich]