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Teachers Take Computer Models for a Spin at NCAR-Based Workshop

June 30, 2004

BOULDER — A select group of middle- and high-school educators is spending two weeks at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) for a crash course in scientific modeling.  Sponsored by NASA, the Modeling in the Geosciences Workshop (June 21–July 2) is giving 17 teachers from across the nation a look at how computer-based models are built, how Earth system scientists use them, and how models can be used in support of middle and high school geoscience education.

"We use models to teach students all the time, but we don't always explicitly call them out as models," says UCAR's Sandra Henderson, the workshop coordinator.  "If you're building a cloud in a jar, or a tornado in a bottle, that's a model.

Although the most complex models require a supercomputer, simplified models of the atmosphere can run on an everyday desktop machine.  The teachers visiting NCAR are learning about some streamlined computer models suitable for classroom use.  They'll return to their hometowns with software ready to install in their schools.

teachers 

A group of teachers attending the Modeling in the Geosciences Workshop explores an equilibrium model of fluid inflow and outflow suitable for classroom use. The teachers, hometowns, and schools (left to right):
Dannah Schaffer, O'Fallon, Missouri (McCluer North High School)
Mike O'Brien, Utica, Michigan (Fraser High School)
Ben Senson, Madison, Wisconsin (Memorial High School)
Candice Autry, Washington, DC (Sheridan School)
William "Hurd" Finnegan, Mobile, AL (W.P. Davidson High School)
Click on image for higher resolution (843K) .

"These models give students a chance to play 'what if?' games and to explore interactions within a complex system," says Roberta Johnson, UCAR's director of education and outreach.  A student might decrease rainfall in a model, for example, and see how that affects vegetation and temperature—which, in turn, could affect future rainfall.  "Done right, a model can be a very engaging tool," says Henderson.

The workshop's content is in line with national science education standards.  Participants each develop their own teaching units to complement the standards-based curriculum.  They'll also be sharing their knowledge with other educators in their school districts.  The teachers will reconvene on line this autumn and reunite for a follow-up meeting in Boulder this spring.

"We look for teachers who are leaders, who aren't afraid to go beyond established curricula, and who are always looking to challenge their students," says Henderson.


The National Center for Atmospheric Research and UCAR Office of Programs are operated by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation and other agencies. Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any of UCAR's sponsors

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