Today’s guest post is by Edward Mansouri of WeatherSTEM.com, who has written some excellent software to integrate data collected by Weather Underground-connected Davis Personal Weather Stations (PWSs) with curriculum in schools. It’s cool how the software lets you easily put the data from your PWS into social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Twilio.
- Jeff MastersFigure 1.
Students and teachers at the 2014 American Meteorological Society Weatherfest in Atlanta check out the WeatherSTEM curriculum and a Davis Personal Weather Station.
More than ever in our history, schools across the United States face the challenge of better preparing students to enter careers where competency in STEM-related subject areas (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a requirement.
There are numerous educational standards being implemented at the federal and state level that seek to insure all students who earn a high school degree demonstrate increased STEM competency. Most of these standards promote integration of topics from different disciplines into lessons and activities.
Weather provides an excellent foundation for STEM education. It also provides myriad opportunities for exposing students to topics from a plethora of disciplines in the scope of a single activity. Any weather situation, from the most benign scenario where a few cumulus humilus clouds dot the sky to the most intense Category 5 hurricane, can turn into a discussion covering everything from algebra to zoology. (If you are not sold on zoology and weather being related, consider the impact of weather on the flight paths of migratory birds.)WeatherSTEM
is a platform being developed by e-learning software-maker, Ucompass. It motivates teachers to create STEM lessons, activities, and assessments from real-world weather. WeatherSTEM is currently being piloted in several Florida school districts.
Ucompass’ primary product, Educator, is a learning management system (LMS). An LMS is (typically) a web-based software system, bringing educational content delivery, communication, and evaluation together into one interface. Colleges, universities, and K-12 environments use an LMS to manage online instruction and increasingly, to augment classroom instruction.
I authored Educator back in 1998, while I was teaching General Meteorology to undergraduate students at Florida State University. Working on my Masters degree, I became enamored by the exploding possibilities for leveraging the World Wide Web to enhance learning and teaching. After finishing my Master’s degree, I left school to start Ucompass. My focus became marketing and the further development of Educator. The Educator program has since been used by millions of students across North America in K-12 and higher education. WeatherSTEM represents a union between my 16-year career creating online education software, and my lifelong passion for weather.
The WeatherSTEM platform is implemented across the domain of a school district. In Florida, where we are piloting the product, each of the state’s 67 counties represents an individual school district. Many of these school districts cover relatively large geographic areas. For example, the Miami-Dade County district covers an area nearly 2,500 square miles and serves almost 400,000 students.Figure 2.
WeatherSTEM allows one to easily put data from a Davis Personal Weather Station into Twitter, as shown here. How WeatherSTEM works
We install full-service weather stations at schools across the client school district. If money were no object, we’d install a weather station at every school. However, in public K-12 education, dollars are always stretched thin, and there is great pressure to provide as much service and value at the absolute minimum cost possible.
WeatherSTEM has features and resources for the entire community. There are engaging student activities such as online forecasting competitions. Teachers have tools that enable them to integrate weather data into their Lesson Plans and align them with relevant educational standards including the Common Core. Each weather station broadcasts live weather data online, so everyone in the community can benefit from hyper-local information. Schools can sell advertising space to local businesses with 100% of the generated revenue being turned over to the school for use in furthering their STEM education efforts. A school in one of our pilot districts recently used funds generated by WeatherSTEM to purchase kits for students to build their own windmills.
Each station is easily integrated into social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Twilio, and Weather Underground.
The standard station installation is based on the Davis Instruments Wireless Vantage Pro 2 Plus with fan-aspirated radiation shield. This system measures temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction, rainfall and rainfall rate, solar radiation, and ultraviolet radiation. Our decision to standardize around the Davis Instruments product was based on multiple factors, including affordability, reliability, and my own great experiences with the company, its support, and its products. The weather station connects to the school’s LAN and data is continuously transmitted to WeatherSTEM in one-minute intervals.
Most stations are also equipped with a cloud camera that is mounted atop the school and transmits pictures of the skies overhead in one-minute intervals to WeatherSTEM. An upgrade we plan to make soon will even allow users to pan, tilt, and zoom the camera themselves to focus on particularly interesting aspects of the sky.
For any schools that have gardens, we install Davis Instruments’ Wireless Leaf/Soil Moisture stations to measure soil conditions. The “STEM” in the name of our product refers both to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in addition to the “stem” part of a plant. We intend to make agriculture an equally integral part of the platform as weather.
Forecast data, satellite and radar imagery, and almanac data are incorporated into the WeatherSTEM platform. All of this information is obtained from Weather Underground’s innovative commercial API. We are also in discussions with several publishers who will augment the curriculum overlaying the historical, present, and forecast data.
Each weather station also has a data extraction tool. Our vision is to introduce students to concepts of “Big Data” at the earliest grade levels possible. This would enable a science teacher to tell her students, “Go to our school’s weather station, and extract the last 2 weeks’ worth of temperature, humidity, wind speed, and soil moisture data at 5-minute intervals. You will need this for our afternoon laboratory activity.”
Our business model for WeatherSTEM is to partner with client school districts to identify potential grant funding to which they may have access, and/or to seek potential sponsorships from gardening centers and nurseries within the geographic domain of a district. Our goal is to deploy the project at the minimum possible cost to the school district. Any grant or sponsorship funds generated will be used to offset the cost of the weather stations, cameras, and associated infrastructure, as well as the installation costs.
Maintenance activities are supported by students and fashioned into STEM lessons and activities. We’re even exploring how teacher’s can earn CEU (Continuing Education Units) credit for helping to support the WeatherSTEM equipment.
Our global society is evolving into one where we need to encourage bright young minds to enter into STEM-related careers. Hopefully, WeatherSTEM can make a small contribution to that overall objective.