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THE CUTTING EDGE / BACK-TO-SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY SPECIAL

Recess Will Be 84, Partly Cloudy . . .

Learning: A program that gives weather stations to schools is turning Southland students into young meteorologists.

September 01, 1997|TROY CORLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fourth-grader Brian Park enjoys watching television weather forecasts because he knows what all the meteorological buzzwords mean. He can tell you what humidity is, how a barometer works and what a dew point does.

What's this West Hills 9-year-old got that maybe you don't? A school weather station wired to the Web.

Brian's public school, Welby Way Elementary, is part of the Worldwide School Weather Network established by Automated Weather Source of Maryland. Welby is one of 2,500 sites, 54 of them in Southern California.

AWS, which was launched in 1992, finds regional TV stations willing to coordinate the project in their area and provides schools with calibrated weather stations, a data logger unit, a digital display panel, an uninterruptible power supply, WeatherNet software, a curriculum guide and a link to its Web site.

The NBC 4 WeatherNet, with Arco Corp. as its sponsor, is one of the largest regional participants in the expanding network. Local sites stretch from Santa Barbara to San Clemente and have their own data display page on the NBC 4 WeatherNet Web site (http://www. knbc4la.com).

The Southern California AWS weather stations, including KNBC in Burbank and the California Museum of Science and Industry in Exposition Park, monitor air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, dew points, wind direction and velocity and rainfall.

Because Southern California is studded with microclimates--it could easily be raining in Oxnard and sunny in Santa Ana--the AWS stations are an important source of highly localized weather information.

On one scorching August afternoon, for example, the air temperature registered 95 at the Richman Elementary School WeatherNet site in Fullerton, while it was 112 at Welby Way Elementary in West Hills. The temperature later jumped to a sizzling 115.

"That's pinpoint forecasting," says NBC weather caster Fritz Coleman. "With WeatherNet we can select which area is having extreme weather conditions and go there and discuss it."

Having access to 54 accurate weather stations gives NBC an edge on its local news competitors. With an El Nino weather condition expected to dump three times the normal rainfall on the region this winter, WeatherNet will help Coleman track storms and anticipate flooding.

El Nino will also provide teachers, like Welby project coordinators Carmen Dean and Carol Underwood, a chance to involve students in real-life science.

Dean wants her fifth-grade students to understand how severe weather conditions such as El Nino change the landscape, alter people's lives and affect the economy. Her students will be keeping a close eye on current events in newspapers, checking the weather on the Internet, finding weather locations on maps, learning about their geology and writing reports about the weather effects.

Even without El Nino, the project gives kids an extensive education in meteorology and related sciences. Students enhance math skills by collecting weather data and creating graphs. They upgrade their language arts and observational skills with science journals, written weather reports and fictional stories based on weather events. And, of course, they gain general computer and Internet skills.

When Welby's station was installed in June, Underwood had to weave the project into her third-graders' curriculum. Fast. The first week the kids learned the names and functions of all the weather instruments. The youngsters read newspaper weather reports and made their own predictions. They were surprisingly accurate, says Underwood.

Before the end of school, the students knew how to surf the Internet for the WeatherNet Web page, call up the information and compare it with sites across the country. Several students became fascinated with flooding in the Midwest and wrote social studies reports.

"We're able to broaden their horizons," says Underwood. "The Internet and the weather take them out of Southern California, and they can find out where we are in the world and how we fit into the global picture." The 8- to 11-year-olds also give daily weather reports over the school's public address system.

Welby Way Elementary was among 800 local schools that applied for the project in early 1997. The requirements were tough: Schools had to have computer equipment for real-time Internet access or be able to transmit near-real-time readings by modem. Welby has an ISDN line, a Power Mac server computer and 15 networked desktop computers. It also uses LAUSDnet, the Los Angeles Unified School District's Internet service.

Schools also had to show a commitment to science and the ability to incorporate WeatherNet into their curriculum. And they had to be in a microclimate that would benefit KNBC's forecasting. Schools sometimes get to be featured on the news, with Coleman and fellow weather reporters Christopher Nance and Paul Johnson broadcasting from the sites.

"Kids love it," says Coleman. "They get to see some practical application of what could otherwise be a very dry subject--the science of weather. They get to see on TV what the weather is in their backyard. It connects them to the media, and it connects them to the science."

If your local school is not a participant, you can still check out global WeatherNet readings and visit the AWS Virtual School Campus on the Internet at http://www. aws.com

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