A three-year project to demonstrate the effectiveness of using real-time weather data to teach mathematics in middle schools is getting under way at UCAR. With funding from NSF, the Skymath Demonstration Project will develop and test a module that middle-school teachers can use in their classrooms. The module, consisting of lesson plans and other curricular materials, will be designed to help teachers implement the standards adopted by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) in an integrated science and math curriculum. Classroom use of the module, in which students will be engaged in activities such as measurement, collection, organization, representation, and analysis of weather data, should take four to six weeks.
The project is based at UCAR and directed by Beverly Lynds; Althea Pearlman, a mathematics teacher at Boulder (Colorado) High School, is co- principal investigator. "One of the exciting things about this project," says Lynds, "is that we're breaking new ground on many levels. We're ending the isolation of the math teacher and integrating science and math. The project really addresses the [NCTM] standards."
Skymath brings together expertise and resources from a variety of other programs and institutions. A design team headed by Robert Kansky of Miami University and Ray Shiflett of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, will provide advice and oversight on the mathematical content of the module, the pedagogical approach, and the data delivery system. Under the leadership of Myles Gordon, the Education Development Center, Inc., (EDC) of Newton, Massachusetts, will be responsible for the actual preparation of the module. In developing the module, the center will work with a Boston school that has a diverse student population.
Skymath will also collaborate with two other NSF-funded projects. Kids as Global Scientists (KGS) at the University of Colorado (CU), will undertake classroom evaluation of the Skymath module; Blue Skies, a program developed at the University of Michigan (UM), will deliver the weather and climate data to the classrooms.
Kids as Global Scientists, headed by CU's Nancy Songer, is a companion to an ongoing effort to connect Boulder Valley schools to the Internet. Songer's project explores the potential of telecommunications networks in the science classroom by allowing students to explore and interpret weather data from UCAR's Unidata program. Through collaborative learning exercises the students become experts on some facet of their local weather; they then can share their expertise with other "experts" in classrooms around the world.
The UM Weather Underground, headed by Perry Samson, developed Blue Skies, an extremely user-friendly graphical interface allowing interactive access to weather and environmental images and animations—including those from Unidata—available through the Internet. During the first year of Skymath, while the module is being developed, Songer will introduce Blue Skies into the KGS classrooms that will be used to test the Skymath module. When the prototype module is ready, participating teachers will attend workshops on how to use it and will try it out in their classes. Songer will assess student learning as a measure of the module's effectiveness, and the teachers themselves will also suggest revisions. These and other teachers will be involved in field-testing the revised version of the module in year three.
One of the advantages of working with KGS, says Lynds, is that Songer already has established teams of math and science teachers. The collaboration between KGS and Skymath gives both the opportunity to integrate math and science materials at the testing sites and see how this affects student learning and teacher effectiveness.
There will also be an external evaluation by Beverly Anderson Parsons of InSites, Inc. While the classroom evaluation will focus on what students are learning and their reactions to the materials, the external focus will be on the effectiveness of the module and how well it works within the context of the classroom, school, district, and state math and science curriculum.
"After it's tested, we're hoping to put the module on the Internet, so it will be available around the country," says Lynds, "but we also intend to have it constructed so it can be used in classes without Internet access. A teacher handbook will be developed by EDC and we hope to have a more extensive field test in subsequent years at more Unidata and UCAR sites." Lynds can be reached at email@example.com or 303-497-8654.