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February 2000

En garde, forecasters: Award-winning Web site for kids launches contest

The leaders of the Web Weather for Kids team are (left to right) Susan Foster (ODGA), Lynne Davis (PAGE); Tara Chace (CU Science Discovery) and Anitta Frant (Casey Middle School). Assistance also came from ODGA director Cindy Schmidt, Carol McLaren (LEARN and Science Discovery), Libby Black (Boulder Valley School District), and Jacque Marshall and Bob Henson (UCAR Communications).

Middle schoolers in Boulder and beyond will go head to head with Denver TV meteorologist Mike Nelson in a forecasting contest this month. The competition is part of a UCAR-hosted Web site for kids that earned a $10,000 prize only a few months after it was created.

In January, Web Weather for Kids received the first annual AAAS-Unisys Prize for Achievement in Online Science Education. The site was chosen from among 15 Web sites built through minigrants from Unisys as part of National Public Science Day 2000. Sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), National Public Science Day takes place on 17 February, at the start of the AAAS annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Each of the Web sites built for National Public Science Day emerged through a collaboration between a school or school system and one or more entities involved in informal science education. The team behind Web Weather for Kids (see photo) included participants from UCAR, CU's Science Discovery program, and the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD).

With a cartoon raindrop guiding students, Web Weather for Kids teaches how thunderstorms and tornadoes are formed and how to gauge thunderstorm distance by counting the seconds between lightning and thunder. Information on floods, blizzards, and other phenomena will be added as the site expands. The material was largely drawn from hands-on experiments developed in the 1990s at the UCAR-based Project LEARN (Laboratory Experience in Atmospheric Research at NCAR), now known simply as LEARN. The new Web site was classroom-tested over two weeks last fall by over 100 sixth graders at Casey Middle School.

The judging panel for the Unisys Prize consisted of a classroom teacher, a science-museum professional, a science educator, and an educational technology specialist. The panel's choice of Web Weather for Kids was unanimous. According to Karen Elinich, director of educational technology at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia,."The site displays a sophisticated grasp of scientific principles as well as the whimsy required to catch the imagination of both teachers and students."

This month's on-line forecast contest is aimed at BVSD students but open to anyone born between 1986 and 1991. KUSA-TV's Nelson will join middle schoolers in predicting the weather each day between 8 and 11 February. Each participant will predict highs and lows and give a thumbs-up or -down for precipitation for the following day at Denver International Airport (Denver's official recording site). Winners will receive UCAR waist packs and copies of Nelson's new Colorado Weather Book and Jack Williams's USA TODAY Weather Book.

"Every time we thought about what kids should know about dramatic weather, we gave equal weight to what they wanted to see and do on a Web site as they learn," says Susan Foster, the project coordinator. "When creative people in this institution partner with educators from across our community, the kids and the schools are the real winners."

The $10,000 award will go to Science Discovery to support teachers' time in helping with the site's expansion. UCAR's ongoing role in the Web site design is made possible by contributions from Friends of UCAR. Tax-exempt contributions are still welcome for UCAR's 40th-anniversary Friends campaign, the goal of which is to raise another $10,000 for Web Weather for Kids.

Bob Henson

On the Web:
Web Weather for Kids
Forecast contest
Web site for Public Science Day 2000
Friends of UCAR

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall