Online Climate Science Course Keys Success to Frequent Forum Discussions

While colleges pre-COVID-19 were already designing and implementing courses for online instruction, the pandemic has pushed entire academic course offerings into this rapidly evolving virtual environment. A new article in the Bulletin of the AMS about an online climate science course for undergraduates, which was developed, offered, and honed to near-perfection based on postcourse surveys before coronavirus, provides this tip for virtual success: Have students engage each other often, one-on-one, in a discussion forum. The result, the instructors are finding, is improved comprehension, with a high percentage of students successfully absorbing and accurately communicating course material.

The online course is titled, “Climate and Climate Change,” and has been offered through the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) at the University of Wisconsin—Madison since 2013. “Students enrolled in this course learn the physical principles governing Earth’s climate and climate change within the broader context of societal impacts and global political considerations,” writes lead author Andrew M. Dzambo and colleagues in the article.

The goal, they write, is to improve student science literacy and address misconceptions by implementing a key learning tool: “the weekly discussion forum where students engage with each other while testing their own knowledge.” The result is an increased knowledge of climate science and the Earth-climate system, as the surveys showed.

The course—AOS 102—has been improved since its inception, and it grew in popularity when it was moved to summer semester in 2016. It expanded its capacity in 2018 to accommodate a growing waitlist of interested students. The course is delivered through weekly worksheets, quizzes, and a final project, but it’s the weekly forum discussions that instructors credit with students’ retaining and being able to discuss climate science.

In their article, the authors present a template of the course for implementation with other atmospheric or Earth-related science coursework:

Although the discussion forums were monitored by course instructors, every student engaged other students at least once a week and freely expressed their own fact-based feedback to one another. By having the majority of the weekly course grade centered around discussion forums and worksheet assignments, complemented with weekly quizzes and an independent final project, the majority of students leave the class with a fundamental understanding of climate science (as evidenced by the course surveys) and with the confidence that they feel well informed about climate change.

Syllabus

Snowflake Selfies as Meteo Teaching Tools

Undergrads at Penn State recently took to their cellphones to mingle with and snap pics of tiny snowflakes to reinforce meteorological concepts. The class, called “Snowflake Selfies” and described in a new paper in BAMS, was designed to use low-cost, low-tech methods that can be widely adapted at other institutions to engage students in hands-on field research.

In addition to photographing snow crystals, students measured snowfall amounts and snow-to-liquid ratios, and then gained meteorological insight into the observations using radar data and thermodynamic soundings. The goal of the course was to reinforce concepts from their other undergraduate meteorology courses, such as atmospheric thermodynamics, cloud physics, and radar and mesoscale meteorology.

As a writing intensive course at Penn State that meets the communication skills requirement of the AMS guidance for a Bachelor’s Degree in Atmospheric Science, “Snowflake Selfies” also was designed to help students communicate meteorological science. Students shared their observations with the local National Weather Service office in State College and also wrote up their work in term papers and presented their pics and findings to the class.

Snow crystal photographs taken by students in the "Snowflake Selfies" class.
Snow crystal photos taken by students in the “Snowflake Selfies” class.

 

Of course to have such a class, you need snow, and “the relative lack of snowfall events during the observational period” in winter 2018 was definitively a challenge for students, the BAMS paper states. Pennsylvania’s long winters often see many opportunities to photograph snow, but the course creators caution that perhaps a longer observational period is needed in case nature doesn’t cooperate. It also would allow students enough time to closely observe snowflakes while juggling their other classes and activities.

A survey conducted at the end of the class found that “Snowflake Selfies” was well received by students, engaging them and encouraging their introduction to field science. And they “strongly agreed [it] helped reinforce their understanding of cloud physics and physical meteorology compared to” a previous such course where students designed, built, and deployed their own 3-D printed rain gauges to measure precipitation.

Actually, that previous course sounds like a lot of fun, too!

Students Converse with Air Force Hurricane Hunter Flight Meteorologists, Tornado Field Researcher

Saturday’s Student Conference at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting kicking off in Boston featured a series of Conversations with Professionals to gain insight into a variety of career choices, the work these professionals in our field currently do, and how they got where they are today. This year’s series, in which short introductions are followed by a Q and A session with students, included two meteorologists who fly into hurricanes with the Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Wing and another who helps c0-operate the Doppler on Wheels radar for tornado field research.

Below is a sampling of questions students asked Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert and Maj. Jeremy DeHart with the AF Hurricane Hunters as well as Karen Kosiba of the Center for Severe Weather Research. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): Can you tell us a little about your backgrounds in the Air Force?

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “Meteorology degrees, with active duty [13 years], go to a weather tech school to learn how to deal with military weather, and then pretty much start with your track—go to a main [Air Force] hub weather regional center to learn how to do big, broad forecasting, then … to a different place and forecast for an airfield so your supporting aircraft at the field. But there are different paths you can take: Science, modeling, Army support, Air Force support, many different ways that you can go.

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “Yeah, I agree. A lot of people think Air Force, military, and are like ‘Oh, I want to do research … it’s not really my cup of tea.’ but there are so many different tracks you can take, and you’re not going to get the breadth of experience you will in the Air Force doing the jobs we did while on active duty. I have a masters degree and they sent me to California for two years [while on active duty], and I was a full-time student and was paid full-time to go to school. And they’ll do that for your Ph.D., go teach at the Air Force Academy … so don’t be scared off by [military] operations.

Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert (r) and Major Jeremy DeHart at Saturday's Conversations with Professionals series.
Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert (r) and Major Jeremy DeHart at Saturday’s Conversations with Professionals series.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): How do you adjust when a hurricane is rapidly intensifying?

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) You’re always adjusting, because it’s never what you exactly expected. We maintain a pressure altitude of 10,000 feet flying into and through the eye of a hurricane. By the time you’re in the eye, in the stronger storms you’re down to 8,000 feet. In Hurricane Wilma, which set a low pressure record, they were flying at 5,000 feet because they didn’t expect it to be that strong, and by the time they got [in the eye] it had bottomed out and the plane flying a 5,000-foot pressure … was down to about a thousand feet and had to pull up.”

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “We don’t do that anymore. We now go in higher. … When we’re briefing we’re changing things. And even in the execution of the mission we constantly have to adjust. … Constantly changing our pattern if there’s a really intense area [of convection] that doesn’t look [on radar] like it’s safe to go through.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): What do you do in the off-season?

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “We go to a lot of airshows.”

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “We give talks at conferences, promote what we do, find out what kinds of new instruments we want to put on our airplane, things like that.”

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “A lot of people don’t realize we have a winter storm requirement as well. … We’ll fly a synoptic pattern and just pepper a big storm with [dropwindsondes]. We’ll fly higher, like 30,000 feet or so, and just carpetbomb the whole thing with instruments.”

Q (Tornado Research): What made you target research versus academia on your career path?

A: (Karen Kosiba) “Sometimes when you’re deep in academia you don’t think there’s anything outside academia. I was getting ready to graduate and I had done tons of field research but also applied for jobs in academia, in government … and I got many of those jobs. So I picked what I liked. But even if you don’t know what you’re doing you visualize that you’ll try a little of everything. … When I first started working with the Doppler on Wheels I thought I was going to be a technician … but I started to enjoy some different things and it just ended up this way. Just because you get a bachelor’s, a master’s, a Ph.D., an associate degree—whatever you’re getting your degree in—doesn’t mean you can’t do different jobs.”

Karen Kosiba, with the Center for Severe Weather Research, answers students' questions Saturday at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting.
Karen Kosiba, with the Center for Severe Weather Research, answers students’ questions Saturday at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting.

Q (Tornado Research): Can you elaborate a little on graduate school and how you learned how to write grants?

A: (Karen Kosiba) “For those of you in graduate school, or going to graduate school, you usually work with a professor, and they’re trying to get grants, too. My professor said ‘Hey, you want to write a grant proposal?’ and I was like ‘Sure, let’s write a grant proposal.’  And you don’t really know much about how to write them in graduate school. You can just wing it, or you can have a good mentor, like I did. You know, [as an aside] you think your mentor should be someone exactly like you, and even though you can have someone who likes the same stuff as you, it can be advantageous to find a person who can help you meet your career goals. Someone who understands what you want to do and who you want to be.”

Q (Tornado Research): Do you have any advice for recent graduates who are interested in project-based research rather than forecasting? It seems like a lot of people just take the first thing out there, often university helper.

A: (Karen Kosiba) It’s true. But I think there are more opportunities out there than just waking up and taking those first opportunities. In my case not only did I shop for a mentor but also an advisor who could help me out in the field. Big universities often have big field projects, and they don’t always advertise them as well as they should. It can be tricky to get out and get that experience. But places like NCAR have programs getting [their] people out to do field projects. And the University of Wyoming, NSSL, will have projects going in and out. They’re out there and sometimes you have to do a bit of work to find them. Even if one professor doesn’t have anything, they might know someone who just got funded for a project. And once you’re in them take some responsibilities on … and become an active crew member and contributor to the project.

GOES-16/17 Virtual Science Fair Seeking Entries From Students

by Margaret Mooney, CIMSS
NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) in Madison Wisconsin is pleased to announce a virtual science fair for students from grades 6-14 applying GOES-16 or GOES-17 data to investigate weather scenarios and natural hazards.
‘Pleased’ is probably too mild of a word to describe our enthusiasm around this project. Madison is after all, the birthplace of satellite meteorology and CIMSS founder Verner Suomi is widely known as the “Father of Satellite Meteorology.”  Recent launches of the GOES-R, NOAA-20 and GOES-S satellites have made our building a very exciting to place to work! Our goal, and motivation, is to share our passion for GOES-R series data as broadly as possible.
One way to reach students is through the spring 2019 virtual science fair, part of “The GOES-R Education Proving Ground” at CIMSS. A key element of this effort, from the get-go, has been a core group of educators working with CIMSS in close coordination NOAA scientists.
GOES proving ground educators
Above: The original GOES-R Education Proving Ground Team from 2014 – from left to right: John Moore, Tim Schmit (NOAA), Margaret Mooney (CIMSS), Vicky Gorman, Peter Dorofy, Craig Phillips, Brian Whittun, Amy Monahan, and Charlotte Besse.
Most of the original teachers have rotated out of the core group. And sadly, Charlotte Besse, a Florida teacher, has since died of cancer – but not before attending the 2016 GOES-R launch with her family in tow!
A major perk for winners of the GOES-16/17 Virtual Science Fair will be official GOES-T launch invites.   Students will also receive $25 gift cards. Teachers coaching the winning teams will garner launch invites (no travel support) and conference travel support to attend and present at the 2020 American Meteorological Society (AMS) Centennial meeting in Boston.
There will be three winning teams: middle school, high school and grades 13/14 (community college or university). GOES-R Educators from five different states will judge the science fair entries. We will be accepting entries between March 1st through May 3rd, 2019. Guidelines, scoring rubrics and other supporting resources are all on-line at http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/education/goesr/vsf.
Please share with your favorite educator!

Is It Sand Or Is It Snow?: Nuggets from Today's Poster Session

Today’s poster sessions starting at 4 p.m. will full of mysterious images. This is your opportunity to ask the researchers what the pictures are all about.
In the case of Morristown-Beard School sophomore Kim Magnotta’s poster (103) today, the question may be simply, what are pictures of sand doing at a meteorology conference?
There’s a good reason, of course, so go ahead and ask.
The primarily quartz and feldspar sample from Sandy Hook, NJ, was unique because several grains in the sample were larger in size.
Magnotta jumped into microphotography hoping to capture images of snowflakes falling on Northern New Jersey.  Starting her work during summer vacation, finding snow was difficult.  Collecting samples from the Jersey Shore, she started photographing sand.  It was also much easier perfecting her technique using subjects that did not melt. The first example shown above is primarily quartz and feldspar from Sandy Hook, NJ, including several uniquely large grains.
The glassy sand from Rings Beach, New Zealand, was yellow, purple, and pink.
Focusing on individual sand grains, Kim was fascinated by the variety that exists in this world.  She began to send out requests for sand from around the world.  Added to her personal samples from Sandy Hook, NJ, were sand from Florida, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic, and other exotic locations.  Kim was greatly encouraged by the support she received.
The variety of sand was instructive: New Zealand sand, for example, the second sample above, was from Rings Beach. It was notably glassy, with yellows, purples, and pinks. The next sample below, from Venice, Florida’s prime location on the Gulf Coast, is quartz mingled with fragments of fossils and crushed shells.
Venice’s prime location on Florida’s Gulf Coast means the quartz is mingled with fragments of small fossils and crushed shells.
Throughout this process, Kim has been creatively reactive to her changing situation.  As she presents in the poster session of the Symposium on Education, this has ultimately been an exercise in experimental design and development.  Kim has learned how to adapt when the original plans did not work out and begun to network with a larger community.
She says,

At beginning of the sand and snowflake study, I hoped to obtain a few clear pictures of individual sand grains and snowflakes. Shortly after the study began, I became interested in learning about the different minerals that compose sand.

Currently, I have taken over 200 pictures of sand grains from over 35 different locations.  This project has blossomed from a hobby into a passion.

Continuing her work, Kim would love for people to come see her at her poster to share ideas about how best to analyze the sand she has collected and to consult about techniques to catch and photograph snowflakes.
Another good reason to spend time wondering at the pictures in the poster conference. One final incentive, a biogenic sand sample from the Dominican Republic, where pink hues set it apart from U.S. East Coast sand.
Sand collected in the Dominican Republic contained fragments of coral and small organisms. This biogenic sand came in a range of pink hues that sets it apart from sand along the U.S. East Coast.

Is It Sand Or Is It Snow?: Nuggets from Today’s Poster Session

Today’s poster sessions starting at 4 p.m. will full of mysterious images. This is your opportunity to ask the researchers what the pictures are all about.

In the case of Morristown-Beard School sophomore Kim Magnotta’s poster (103) today, the question may be simply, what are pictures of sand doing at a meteorology conference?

There’s a good reason, of course, so go ahead and ask.

The primarily quartz and feldspar sample from Sandy Hook, NJ, was unique because several grains in the sample were larger in size.

Magnotta jumped into microphotography hoping to capture images of snowflakes falling on Northern New Jersey.  Starting her work during summer vacation, finding snow was difficult.  Collecting samples from the Jersey Shore, she started photographing sand.  It was also much easier perfecting her technique using subjects that did not melt. The first example shown above is primarily quartz and feldspar from Sandy Hook, NJ, including several uniquely large grains.

The glassy sand from Rings Beach, New Zealand, was yellow, purple, and pink.

Focusing on individual sand grains, Kim was fascinated by the variety that exists in this world.  She began to send out requests for sand from around the world.  Added to her personal samples from Sandy Hook, NJ, were sand from Florida, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic, and other exotic locations.  Kim was greatly encouraged by the support she received.

The variety of sand was instructive: New Zealand sand, for example, the second sample above, was from Rings Beach. It was notably glassy, with yellows, purples, and pinks. The next sample below, from Venice, Florida’s prime location on the Gulf Coast, is quartz mingled with fragments of fossils and crushed shells.

Venice’s prime location on Florida’s Gulf Coast means the quartz is mingled with fragments of small fossils and crushed shells.

Throughout this process, Kim has been creatively reactive to her changing situation.  As she presents in the poster session of the Symposium on Education, this has ultimately been an exercise in experimental design and development.  Kim has learned how to adapt when the original plans did not work out and begun to network with a larger community.

She says,

At beginning of the sand and snowflake study, I hoped to obtain a few clear pictures of individual sand grains and snowflakes. Shortly after the study began, I became interested in learning about the different minerals that compose sand.

Currently, I have taken over 200 pictures of sand grains from over 35 different locations.  This project has blossomed from a hobby into a passion.

Continuing her work, Kim would love for people to come see her at her poster to share ideas about how best to analyze the sand she has collected and to consult about techniques to catch and photograph snowflakes.

Another good reason to spend time wondering at the pictures in the poster conference. One final incentive, a biogenic sand sample from the Dominican Republic, where pink hues set it apart from U.S. East Coast sand.

Sand collected in the Dominican Republic contained fragments of coral and small organisms. This biogenic sand came in a range of pink hues that sets it apart from sand along the U.S. East Coast.

Milestones for the AMS Education Program

diversity project 2

In a milestone year for the now 25-year-old AMS Education Program, one of the proudest achievements was the successful completion of the five-year AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project. This NSF-funded initiative introduced and enhanced geoscience and/or sustainability teaching at nearly 100 minority-serving institutions (MSIs) since 2011.
The recent AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans was the final event in the project; it included a Sunday workshop bringing together 18 faculty from minority-serving institutions who had attended the project’s May 2015 workshop on implementing the AMS Climate Studies course. The faculty not only attend the workshop; they also presented at the subsequent Education Symposium of the Annual Meeting.
Overall in the Climate Studies Diversity Project, AMS was able to partner with Second Nature, a nonprofit working toward societal sustainability through a network of colleges and universities, to recruit 101 faculty to attend Climate Studies workshops in Washington, D.C. to learn from top scientists at Howard University, NOAA, and NASA. The attendees then incorporated the AMS Climate Studies course materials, real-time data, and lessons in their teaching.

 diversity project 1

Since 2001, in faculty enhancement through the AMS Weather Studies and Ocean Studies courses and now the Climate Studies Diversity Project, AMS has engaged 24,000 students through 220 MSIs.
Two of the MSI faculty who presented their climate science teaching in New Orleans shared with The Front Page blog their impressions of the May 2015 AMS Climate Studies Course Implementation Workshop:
Ivetta Abramyan, Professor, Florida State College at Jacksonville:
The combination of noteworthy speakers and fascinating field trips made the workshop a very informative and engaging environment and I found myself absorbing a plethora of information. Upon walking out of our meeting room on the last day, I realized that I not only gained a wealth of knowledge on a variety of climate-related topics, but also gained a support system that I will hopefully have for the rest of my career.
We were armed with valuable resources to help us tackle the challenge of teaching a brand new course or incorporating new material into existing courses. I learned about so many new websites, programs, initiatives, and funding opportunities. The field trips to NCEP, the Beltsville Center for Climate System Observation (BCCSO), and NASA Goddard provided an opportunity to see the operational side of the field. They were inspirational and motivating to say the least. In fact, I had a student email me a few days later asking for some ocean data. It felt good to be able to direct him to one of the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center sites that was shown to us during the NCEP tour.
In addition to the arsenal of tools and resources we were given, the workshop provided indispensable insight and sense of community. There were quite a few quotes that left an impression on me, some of them being: “We did not get out of the Stone Age because we ran out of stones,” by Rear Admiral David Titley, and “every state is an ocean state.” However, the one that really resonated with me was from Frank Niepold, the Climate Education Coordinator at NOAA’s Climate Program Office, who mentioned that students are getting the majority of their climate information from unskilled, unreliable, nonscientific sources. That statement is overwhelmingly true, and it made me realize just how much of an impact we, as educators, can potentially have on our students.
Another aspect of the workshop that I found intriguing was the diversity among the faculty in attendance. So many different institutions were represented, both large and small. The faculty also had various educational backgrounds. Our group of approximately 30 professors consisted of meteorologists, geologists, oceanographers, biologists, geographers, and everything in between.
Regional differences were also very evident. For example, I teach on a campus that is approximately nine minutes from the coast, and found it fascinating that other workshop attendees and fellow colleagues have classes in which the majority of students had never been on a boat. These conversations sparked ideas for collaboration projects within the cohort and we were excited to present our results at the AMS Annual Meeting. The connections we made at the workshop can be just as important as content in making us effective leaders in an effort to help change the world with respect to climate education.
On a more personal note, it can be a challenge for minority serving institutions to encourage their student body to pursue the STEM fields. The Earth science and physical science majors are extremely underrepresented in our population. We have few traditional students. My students range in age from 16 to 66. Some have full-time jobs. Some have families. Some are active military. Although they have the same drive, aptitude, and interests as traditional students, they may not have the resources. Many of them have academic dreams, but don’t know what opportunities exist. They don’t realize that NASA, NSF or other federal agencies would be willing to fund them if they were to pursue those dreams. They may be interested in the atmosphere or the oceans, but lack the motivation or confidence to make it a career path. It could be something as minor as not having the right information. Some of these students have a potential fire within and it is up to us to provide the spark to truly make them shine. We are on the front lines, not just for climate education, but STEM disciplines in general. Our voice is the bridge between can’t and absolutely can and I truly feel like the AMS Climate Diversity Project Workshop helped strengthen that voice.
In fact, as I was writing this, I received another email from the aforementioned student that I gave the OPC link to. He is declaring that he wants to change his major to a physical science and wants to meet to discuss his options. This student also happens to be a minority. It’s pretty rewarding to see the impact that this workshop is already having before the course has even been taught. I hope to utilize everything I learned during that week to inspire my students the way that the workshop inspired me.
María Calixta Ortiz, MSEM, (PhDc), Associate professor, Universidad Metropolitana, San Juan Puerto Rico:
One of the best decisions I have made was to apply for an announcement from Second Nature inviting professors to be part of the Climate Diversity Project from the American Meteorological Society. Our climatology course, which I have not taught, had not incorporated climate change. I was searching for more experience with climate change to integrate it to the curriculum at my school.
Climate change has mixed meanings for students living in an island in the Caribbean. Most of the time, students underestimate and misunderstand the topic, mainly because it is seen as a future event, and because models have many uncertainties. Traditionally, water sources in Puerto Rico have been considered vast and sufficient for all purposes. However, this availability could be impacted by future challenges of climate change. Puerto Rico has experienced climate variability in terms of alternated extremely heavy precipitation in some areas and droughts in other areas that have driven potable water rationing.
In addition, being an island, 67% of the population lives in coastal municipalities. Demand for the occupation of coastal land increased 25% over the period 2000-2005. The amount of population living in coastal areas signalled a challenge for policymakers and environmental planners.Change and climate variability combined with social, economic, and environmental factors produce synergistic effects on human health. Climate change is definitely a threat to human health, so “it is about people.”
As the dean of the school, my AMS experience will help me in different ways to update the curriculum. First, I intend to include knowledge and evidence on climate change—NOAA data, NASA simulations, and current references—as part of the course of climatology. Then, we will include the topic in related courses: environmental science, Earth science, and oceanography.  Finally, when I feel comfortable with the topic, I will teach the course of climatology myself.
In the future, the school can move to consider a master degree in climate studies focused on preparing the population for mitigation and adaptation. We are responsible for preparing professionals for building resilience within communities, and to develop leaders who will have the ability to cope with external perturbations to society and its infrastructure caused by climate variability. More students need to understand Earth’s climate system and the evidence of climate change to evaluate potential impacts on human health and to improve the decision-making process.
 
 
 

25 Years of Educating and Energizing

In education, 1984 was a watershed year: Malcolm Walker of the U.K Royal Meteorological Society convened the first international conference in school and popular meteorological education. A small group of Americans headed to Oxford, curious to see how the rest of the world was starting to experiment with ways of improving teaching.
As David Smith tells it, Walker hooked attendees into a passion for meteorological education. The effects are now felt in the AMS and through the nation. For example, Eugene Bierly, an attendee at the Oxford meeting, offered money from NSF to help start up an initiative by Ira Geer—another attendee—which became the AMS Education Program in Washington, D.C.
For his own part, Smith, now retired from the U.S. Naval Academy, went on to co-chair 22 years of AMS Education Symposia (http://bit.ly/1ngkjJm)—the first being in 1992, at the AMS Annual Meeting in Atlanta. This year he’s been here in New Orleans, helping to celebrate the symposium’s 25 years of bringing teachers and scientists together on their common mission of spreading knowledge.
“I don’t think we would be here today without the energy and the vision Malcolm brought to these conferences,” Smith told the symposium audience before the celebratory cake cutting.
The group of 21 master teachers in Geer’s network have brought a new energy to the AMS meeting, with their hands-on, interactive presentations. “They absolutely turned the society on their heads,” Smith said. They also drew others in AMS into a renewed commitment to great and creative teaching that thrives each year through the recurring AMS symposium.
“When I think about education, I think about exciting that spark: Giving young people a new way to see the world,” said Raj Pandya of AGU, another former co-chair who now heads the AMS Commission on Human Resources, said at Monday’s celebratory session.
“Education is a really important part of what we do,” outgoing AMS President Sandy MacDonald said in his remarks opening the symposium. “In some ways it is the most important part of what we do.”
Smith and Pandya added some more thoughts on the value of the Education Symposium in a video interview yesterday:

In the Wake of Shark Week…

By Anupa Asokan, AMS Education Program
For many of us who have dedicated our lives to studying, protecting, and loving the ocean, Jaws and Shark Week are two of the primary reasons why. I always look forward to that wonderful week in August where I can be guaranteed endless hours of the deep blue and beautiful toothy creatures. And Jaws . . .what else can I say but: “amazing!” So why do some of us find these pieces of sensationalism inspiring, while others cite them as a reason to fear the ocean? The short answer is: those of us who know, know better.
Most of the events and creatures that become the subject of horror movies and sensationalism are far-fetched and/or products of the human imagination. Deep down we all know that we’re not going to encounter a zombie walking down the street. The ocean, on the other hand, is already a much less familiar environment, and sharks are very real.  We tend to fear the unknown, and if all I knew of the ocean was shark week, I’d be scared too. A swim in the ocean could very well lead to an encounter with a shark. But just as we’ve all walked the streets sans a zombie attack, many of us have also had countless swims/dives/snorkels/surfs/paddles and returned to shore unscathed. I’m not saying a face-to-face encounter with the Landlord (aka the great white shark) wouldn’t make me shake in my wetsuit, but the truth is that more shark attacks don’t happen than do happen.
According to the International Shark Attack File, there have been 767 documented shark attacks since 1580. These are unprovoked bites only (because if you mess with something that doesn’t have hands to fight back, I think you’re asking to get bit). Less than 20% of these bites were fatal. Let’s put this in perspective, shall we? I will round up, and that is still only an average of 2 bites a year. Which means you are 23 times more likely to die from a lightning strike, 136 times more likely to die from sun/heat exposure, and almost 30,000 times more likely to die of the flu. I can even make this more fun. More people also die each year from falling coconuts, vending machines, falling airplane parts, and playing soccer in England. Few–if any–of us are afraid of sunshine, tropical plants, or snacks, but sharks unfortunately have acquired a very bad reputation.
Yes, sharks are stellar hunters. They’ve had over 400 million years to perfect their predator status in the ocean. Yes, sometimes they get confused and think humans are delicious, blubbery seals, but they’re definitely not prowling the seas looking for people to snack on. They are truly amazing creatures that are a crucial part of a delicate and intricate food web, and they’re in trouble. Their numbers are declining so rapidly that I feel fortunate to have had any encounters whatsoever with these beautiful animals.

So to all the meteorologists out there, take this as a cautionary tale from us marine scientists. Twister could very well be your Jaws and Tornado Week would be a great tribute on The Weather Channel to an incredible phenomenon (oh wait, it already exists!). Let’s not let the world panic at the sight of every cloud in the sky. Let’s put people in the know. Let’s be powerful educators and effectively preempt the fear-mongering.

reefshark

Photo Credit: Anupa Asokan

What Does It Mean to Be Meteorological?

by Anupa Asokan, AMS Education Program
From my past life as an educator, I’m used to misconceptions. In fact, I welcome them as an opportunity for a more impactful “teachable moment.” In the outdoor setting where I once taught marine science, this was usually centered around sharks, which thanks to sensationalist media and works of art like Jaws, I often had the opportunity to spout out some random fact about how you are more likely to die from a falling coconut and hopefully allay the fears of every child forced to listen to me. Now, working with the AMS Education Program, my teachable moments are focused less on sharks and much more on the word “meteorology.”
My first encounter with the word was as a young child watching my local TV meteorologist. Every evening, Bill Quinlan would tell me about the weather. I vividly remember being in awe of the fact that he would be focused on something out in the ether and yet somehow knowingly point at the correct spot on that magical, wondrous, colorful map behind him. If you, a fellow nerd of all things weather, are reading this, you probably have a similar account from your childhood, but as it turns out, the association between meteorology and the weather isn’t something that every person stumbles upon in their lifetime.
Representing the AMS at various conferences and events, I’ve been shown many alleged “meteorites” from people hoping to confirm the extraterrestrial origin of their favorite rock. Most recently, the AMS Education Program participated in the Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., last month. This is a truly amazing production and a dream come true for teachers and lovers of science alike, and we were offering a fun, weather-inspired activity: making clouds in a bottle.
The exhibits were separated into sections by topic. The Earth science section had a cool graphic of a cloud, rain, and a lightning bolt. . . but for some reason it didn’t have us. Instead, we were in the space section–“Astronomy and Space Exploration,” to be exact, represented by a picture of a little rocket. Now don’t get me wrong, it is always cool to be near NASA, but where does this disconnect between meteorology and the weather come from? Certainly, the “meteor” in meteorology has always caused some confusion, and  you could say we “fit” in space—forecasting technology and space weather have roots in the study of the atmosphere. On the other hand, meteorology exists if not to tell us the impact of the atmosphere on our day-to-day lives here on Earth.
So there we were, set up in “space” with our bottles and aerosols, ready to create some clouds and conveniently provided with the perfect teachable moment for 325,000 visitors to Science Fest. That is why we were there, after all, because who else is going to teach the world what meteorology really is, but those of us who love everything that it represents, Earthly or otherwise.