Understanding Weather Extremes with Big Data: Inspiring Rural Youth in Data Science
As scientific discovery becomes ever more data-driven, there is a critical need to build a scientific workforce with robust skills in scientific modeling and large-scale data analysis. Nowhere is the need to strengthen learning opportunities greater than in rural areas, where a majority of the nation’s school districts reside and where under-investment persists.
To promote interests in data analysis and data science careers, WeatherX curriculum units will support student investigations of extreme weather events on Mount Washington, NH -- often called the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather” -- as well as in their local communities.
Students will use the data visualization and online modeling tools Common Online Data Analysis Platform (CODAP) and SageModeler, as well as large-scale data from the Mount Washington Observatory (MWO) and the National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) to conduct their investigations.
Key Curriculum Components:
1. A focus on analyzing, describing, and explaining extreme weather events on Mount Washington and in students' local communities
2. Hands-on investigations of weather data from MWO and NCEI, using CODAP
3. Opportunities to develop and revise conceptual models of extreme weather events and their underlying causes, using SageModeler
4. Activities in which students connect with community members about the local weather, to strengthen the cultural relevance of students' learning
5. Opportunities to interact with MWO weather scientists through online chats, video demonstrations, and video live sessions to build understanding of and interest in data science careers
Over a period of three years, the project is developing and testing a series of model curriculum units, each designed as extended sets of hands-on science investigations for middle-school science classrooms. In this effort, the WeatherX team will ultimately collaborate with 10-20 middle-school science teachers and their students in rural school districts in northern New Hampshire and Maine.
Project research will address the following questions:
1. What is the feasibility of using WeatherX units in participating classrooms?
2. How do teachers enact WeatherX units?
3. What are the mechanisms by which WeatherX units and their enacted components may have an impact on student learning and interests?
4. To what extent do students who work through WeatherX units show improved understandings of, abilities in, and interest in scientific data analysis and data science careers?
Unit development and project research is unfolding in a series of iterative phases. During an initial development and feedback phase, the project focused on sharing early unit ideas and activities with teachers and soliciting their feedback. Currently in an “alpha” development and testing phase, the project is exploring the feasibility of unit implementation, how teachers enact the units, and the ways in which the units may support student interest and engagement in data analysis and scientific careers. During a “beta” development and testing phase, the project will focus less on feasibility of unit use and more on unit enactment, mechanisms by which the units may support student learning, and quantitative measures of improvement in student learning and interest in data analysis and scientific careers. Research during these alpha and beta phases involves collection and analysis of survey and focus-group interview data from teachers and students, as well as classroom observation data, samples of student work, and pre- and post-unit student assessment data.