Monday, March 22, 2010

Tracking Climate in Your Backyard

4-H Educators working on a weather activity at PRI's 2009 workshop.

More than twenty 4-H educators and volunteers from across New York state will be meeting at the Paleontological Research Institution's (PRI) Museum of the Earth from March 23-24 to take part in a citizen science initiative called Tracking Climate in Your Backyard. These educators will be introduced to a new curriculum on climate and weather created by PRI's Global Change Project manager Trisha Smercak.

Tracking Climate in Your Backyard is a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project that seeks to engage youth in real science through the collection, recording, and understanding of precipitation data in the forms of rain, hail, and snow. The partners in this collaboration are the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) and its Museum of the Earth, New York State 4-H, and the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS). The latter is a citizen science project that has participants record precipitation measurements in an online database.

"We teach the teachers," stated Dr. Rob Ross, associate director for outreach at PRI. "The participants in these trainings go back to their home groups and use the tools and the curriculum that we've created to teach their constituents about weather and climate in ways that best fits with their needs." Nancy Robertson, a 4-H educator in Saratoga County and is attending next weeks workshop for the second year, believes that this program "fulfills a need in the local 4-H community." She goes on to say, "The information and activities have been useful. It has made me more secure in my knowledge of weather and sparked my interest to learn more. The basics of atmospheric pressure and temperature fluctuation are very important to understand, especially now."

The purpose of this project and its associated curriculum is to encourage youth, specifically ages 8-12, to better understand the scientific process by engaging in it themselves through the collection and understanding of meteorological data in their community. By following the precipitation measurement guidelines of CoCoRaHS, youth develop an understanding of scientific methods and standardization, and by recording their precipitation records (including recording the lack of precipitation), they recognize the importance of accurate data collection. Finally, by importing their data into a national database, they can see how their community precipitation data compares to communities near and far. Their data is then analyzed by scientists to better understand the spatial variability of precipitation and develop warning systems for flooding and other natural disasters. In particular, hail is very poorly understood in the scientific community, and data provided by public in communities like ours can help illuminate better scientific understanding of hail and of meteorology in general.

Trisha Smercak of PRI believes "that just the idea that youth know that they are contributing to a scientific cause can be tremendously influential.” This workshop, now in its second year, along with this new curriculum gives these participating informal educators the tools they need to go back into their communities and give young people the opportunity to fully participate in real world scientific research.

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