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August 1997

Teachers get a new chance to LEARN from NCAR, UOP scientists


Ask the middle school science teachers participating in LEARN: Atmospheric Science Explorers what they valued most about LEARN's recent Summer Institute in Boulder, and they'll tell you it was the opportunity to spend time with NCAR and UOP scientists.

"It was a day full of experimenting and hypothesizing--exactly the way I like to learn science," wrote one teacher after spending the day with Charlie Knight (MMM). Another, who liked being able to get some of her thornier questions answered, "gained a greater understanding of why forecasting is so difficult." Several teachers appreciated the opportunity to see "what scientists actually do."

Funded by NSF's Teacher Enhancement Program, the core of LEARN (Laboratory Experience in Atmospheric Research at NCAR) is a series of workshops over three consecutive summers for 35 teachers from eight rural regions around Colorado. This year's Summer Institute, June 9-27, covered fundamentals of atmospheric dynamics and basic meteorology.

Twenty-six NCAR/UOP staff members gave their time and expertise to the Summer Institute. In between daily weather briefings and presentations, teachers devised barometers from coffee cans and experimented with other hands-on projects to take back to their classrooms around the state.

"The scientists who worked with the LEARN teachers were great. They put in a lot of time and energy to make the workshop successful," says Sandra Henderson, science educator and LEARN project staff member. Some scientists gave presentations, some served as mentors to small groups of teachers, and some did both.

LEARN 1997 Summer Institute Participants

Wendy Abshire, COMET
Mary Barth, MMM
Ned Chamberlain, ATD
Rich Cianflone, COMET
Al Cooper, ASP
Katy Ginger, COMET
Janine Goldstein, JOSS
Jim Howell, ASP
Cathy Kessinger, RAP
Charlie Knight, MMM
Peggy LeMone, MMM
Bev Lynds, UCAR/SkyMath
Greg McFarquhar, MMM
Linda Mearns, ESIG
Liz Page, COMET
Raj Pandya, MMM
Roger Pielke, ESIG
Jordan Powers, ASP
Tim Spangler, COMET
Bjorn Stevens, ASP
Greg Thompson, RAP
John Tuttle, RAP
Tammy Weckwerth, ASP
Morris Weisman, MMM
Doug Wesley, COMET
Steve Williams, JOSS

Sandra and LEARN director Carol McLaren work with the volunteer scientists, suggesting hands-on activities to fit their areas of expertise. Raj Pandya (MMM) prepared by reading introductory texts on atmospheric science and rehearsing his demonstrations in the kitchen with his wife. "She helped me smooth out my explanations," he says.

Working as a team, Wendy Abshire, Katy Ginger, and Liz Page took advantage of COMET's training modules for professional meteorologists, adapting them to the LEARN agenda. "We also looked at real-time weather around Colorado. Everyone looked at what was happening in their home town, using radar and satellite images, and we showed them how they could do the same thing in their classrooms, using the Web," reports Wendy. (The team recommends a visit to Weather Education Resource Links.)

NCAR/UOP scientists volunteer with LEARN because they care about science literacy and welcome the opportunity to give something back to the larger community. But once they become involved, they discover an additional benefit: "You discover holes in your understanding when you try to communicate to someone who doesn't have your background," says Peggy LeMone (MMM). "You can't hide behind a term or an equation anymore; you have to sit and think about it." Charlie Knight agrees. "Every time you go back to fundamentals, you appreciate more. It really feeds into one's scientific endeavors in a fairly direct way. It's challenging distilling things down to their understandable essences." Peggy is a co-principal investigator on the LEARN grant; she and Charlie help take LEARN on the road during the school year, offering on-site training to additional teachers in the eight participating Colorado regions.

Peggy notes that volunteering with LEARN is helpful for postdocs who want to find out more about teaching. "It gives them a chance to see if they like it, and puts something on their resume that gives them a little competitive edge."

Raj wanted to get more teaching experience. He was pleasantly surprised. "I didn't know it would be fun--I was pretty nervous beforehand. But I found out we were all learning together. Maybe I knew the answers to the science part, but the teachers had the expertise on what kids could get out of it. So it was more like a partnership."

Fostering that partnership is one of LEARN's goals. "To be successful, we need the expertise of the scientists and the expertise of the teachers, working together," says Sandra. Because she and Carol are aware of the many demands on scientists, they are especially appreciative of LEARN volunteers. "This program would not be possible without the time and dedication of the NCAR scientists," Sandra affirms.

Who makes a good LEARN volunteer? "People who are enthusiastic about their work and like to talk about it, especially to the public and to colleagues who are not in their specialty," says Peggy. Charlie adds that people doing hands-on lab work are naturals as LEARN volunteers.

Next summer's focus is atmospheric chemistry. Carol and Sandra are looking for additional volunteers and invite interested scientists to contact them for more information (cmclaren@ucar.edu, ext. 8109; sandrah@ucar.edu, ext. 8108). •Zhenya Gallon


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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu

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