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Winter/Spring 1997

LEARN: Atmospheric Science Explorers ready for takeoff

by Zhenya Gallon
UCAR Communications

The second phase of Project LEARN (Laboratory Experience in Atmospheric Research at NCAR), called LEARN: Atmospheric Science Explorers, will give 35 middle-school teachers from rural Colorado a "crash course" in the atmospheric sciences. The project, funded by the NSF's Teacher Enhancement Program, brings the teachers together with NCAR and UOP scientists to get hands-on experience in scientific research methods while exchanging information about teaching techniques. Leadership training helps the teachers pass on their workshop experiences to colleagues in their districts.

Stephanie Chu (left) and Jennifer Henry of Beattie Elementary School, Fort Collins, Colorado, study air pressure at a workshop cosponsored by LEARN and the University of Colorado's Science Discovery Program. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

In teacher training programs, "Rural areas are often overlooked," says educator and LEARN director Carol McLaren. "They have unique issues due to their isolation, limited resources, and diverse populations." Background research by project staff revealed earth sciences as a field in need of strengthening in rural areas, "so it seemed like an opportunity to share NCAR's expertise."

Participants in LEARN need to have a high level of interest and commitment, the ability and desire to take on leadership roles, and--since the teachers will come to Boulder for three weeks for each of the next three summers--the ability to be absent from the daily demands of other occupations, such as farming and ranching.

The first phase of Project LEARN--also sponsored by NSF--trained 39 teachers from four states from 1992 to 1995. There were some rural participants, primarily from North Carolina, but the majority came from urban areas (see UCAR Quarterly, Winter 1994-95). The curriculum for the new LEARN group will build on the three teaching modules the first group produced: atmospheric dynamics, ozone, and cycles of the earth and atmosphere--their impact on climate.

"One of the reasons we decided to go with the more local format this time was so we could do more in-depth follow-up in the districts," explains McLaren. She and her colleagues will visit each participating school district twice, working with an additional 147 teachers beyond the group trained in Boulder. The first, two-day visit will begin with a hands-on workshop for both teachers and children by the University of Colorado Science Discovery Program in collaboration with LEARN. On the second day, an NCAR or UOP scientist will provide more in-depth content and answer questions. Margaret LeMone and Charles Knight of NCAR's Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division have already begun working on these in-district trainings. The second visit, scheduled for the project's second year, will be a day-long session on computer-based technology, including the World Wide Web.

McLaren notes that the inauguration of the Colorado project coincides with adoption of new statewide content standards in January 1997. "The content we're offering really meshes with the state standards, so it should help support the districts," she adds. As schools across the country examine ways to strengthen their earth sciences curriculum, teachers can turn to the LEARN teaching modules for help building their own hands-on, student-centered curriculum in atmospheric sciences. For more information, call 303-497-8107 or visit the Project LEARN Web site.

To order teaching modules, contact NCAR Information Support Services (303-497-1162).


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