Case study of a school weather station
The Maiden Erlegh Weather Station and Weather Club
Maiden Erlegh School in Reading are the proud owners of a well-used weather station which was installed on the school grounds in 2009. The station has enhanced geography lessons across all key stages and has provided a number of opportunities for cross-curricular work and links with the local community.
The popular Weather Club gives Year 7 to 9 students the chance to take part in various activities and experiments using the weather station after school hours.
This case study, written by Maiden Erlegh geography teacher Martin Sutton, explains the weather station and weather club in more detail and offers a number of geographical and cross-curriculuar activity ideas.
About the Weather Club
I run a Weather Club at Maiden Erlegh School - a small group of Year 7 to 9 students who meet every week for half an hour after school, helped by some Year 12 geography students.
They participate in a variety of activities such as making models of weather fronts, conducting experiments on convection currents and building anemometers and wind vanes from everyday household items.
It is important that the students take ownership of the club and decide the natural journey of their interest. They regularly produce their own presentations and hold meetings to decide which aspect of the weather they would like to investigate.
We have been fortunate to have had two Met Office employees visit the club and talk to the students about various aspects of their work and meteorological phenomena.
'In Mr. Sutton's Weather Club we do a variety of things - like making models, looking at and investigating the school's new weather station. Also we generally learn about geography like climate in places and environmental stuff. I have attended weather club for two weeks and it has made my learning in geography more fun and confident.' - Donald, Year 7
Getting the weather station
My passion for meteorology and a decrease in the content covered in many syllabi meant that I was soon spending time visiting automated weather stations (AWS) at local primary schools and trawling the internet comparing models and prices. The Weather Club shared my interest to purchase an AWS for the school so I secured funding from our Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network (STEMNET) group to buy one.
By November 2009 the caretaker had helped me erect the station on the roof of the Humanities block and we had a live data stream flowing to the data logger and console.
The impact of the weather station
The impact of the station was huge - in school, across the local community and further afield. With 4,000 hits in its first month (with help from a few snow day school closures) the station soon strengthened community cohesion links that the school offered.
The story made the local press and the council uses our live data information on its websites. We have also been referenced on webpages held by the Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS), a local environmental group, The University of Reading Meteorology Department and have supplied data in the Great British Weather Experiment run by RMetS.
Weather station equipment and data
The station model is a Vantage Vue made by Davis Instruments, a Californian company that specialises in weather equipment. Although AWSs can vary greatly in price, cheaper ones are available allowing a similar project to be run successfully on a much smaller budget.
Weather information is constantly sent wirelessly to a data logger that uploads to the internet 24/7. The AWS is powered by a solar panel during the day and a Lithium battery during the night. The logger, housed in a secure office, records and calculates information such as inside and outside air temperature, dew point, inside and outside humidity, rainfall, wind speed, wind direction and barometric air pressure.
Weather forecasting software
A few months later we purchased a piece of weather forecasting software called WXSIM. You simply populate it with current data, some optionally downloaded from the internet, and then 'turn it loose' to model the weather for the next few days, but with the option to interact with the program and mix in some of your own forecasting skill and knowledge. The model actually 'learns' from its forecasts to adjust its predictions for the future.
The model uses actual data from our weather station and links this together with data from nearby weather stations (personal, commercial and military). It uses data upwind of our station, often from sea buoys in the Atlantic Ocean, data from satellites or from land stations within 2000km to create an impression of the weather that is coming our way. It uses a variety of data including 225 advection stations that report how the temperature changes as you move up into the atmosphere.
Weather activities for students
We are currently comparing minimum and maximum temperature forecasts with a number of national forecasts and the results will be published in a few months (win or lose!). Many other users report that the software produces slightly better forecasts over a 2-3 day period as it looks at local microclimatic patterns over areas such as Lower Earley, rather than a blanket postcode forecast over East Berkshire that commercial companies often use.
In March 2011 the Weather Club forged a new link with one of our feeder primary schools, Aldryngton, when they hosted a 'weather workshop' which involved showing the Year 6 students our weather data and getting them to participate in a quiz that they had designed themselves. I hope to maintain and develop this community bond further.
Within the classroom and at after school clubs there are many activities that can be used to engage and enthuse students using the AWS. Examples of tasks that they can carry out across all Key Stages include:
Simply making a quiz about the Maiden Erlegh weather station website helps to generate an initial interest in the information.
By getting students to look up historical records from the station - coldest, wettest, windiest, hottest, driest - they start to explore the wealth of data available to them. Ask them to create a school 'Book of Records' and update it every time a new record in each category is broken.
Tracking major weather events
Keep a close eye on major weather events in the news such as hurricanes in the Atlantic or tornadoes in Oklahoma. Although this doesn't use the school weather station, by tracking topical events students begin to realise that weather forecasting is dynamic and current.
Comparing forecast data with recorded data
This involves using a spreadsheet such as Excel and so carries cross-curricular links with Maths and ICT. Extension work can involve plotting the data in a graph and commenting on it. Students can then suggest reasons as to why the forecast is accurate / inaccurate. They may wish to investigate if it is more accurate at certain times of the day or year.
Looking for correlations
Students plot graphs of factors such as air pressure, humidity and temperature then look for and try to explain correlations between them.
Following on from the activity above, students can look at recent data and using their knowledge about these correlations try to forecast the weather for themselves. Their forecasts can be compared to the software forecast and also the commercial forecast.
Linking weather forecasting with everyday life
Will the weekend bring barbeque weather? Will the school close due to snow on Monday? Will the motorway be closed again due to flooding? By making weather forecasting relevant to them, students will relish the challenge of making accurate forecasts and enjoy the power this gives them.
Which forecast is the best?
The forecasts generated by the school software can be statistically compared to the commercial forecasts. Who is more accurate - the school, the BBC, the MetOffice, or the wealth of internet sites that try their luck at forecasting? Ask them why this is the case and make an enquiry of it.
Comparing your local area with distant locations
Creating and comparing climate graphs for our local area (Reading) with other environments around the world forms a platform for learning. What are the differences? Why do they exist? What does this mean?
More able students at KS4 and KS5 may wish to track the progress of a depression over their local area. Does the data being measured tie in with that available elsewhere? If not, why not? Get students to think ahead and suggest what will happen next in the sequence for each weather variable.
Presenting the weather forecast
Task students with shooting a video of their weather forecast using video cameras, mobile phones or webcams. These can then be uploaded onto the school's website or VLE to create a sense of interest around the school and indeed the local community.
For some excellent cross-curricular links with Art, encourage students to design a logo for the school weather site, Weather Club or weather forecast 'broadcast channel'. Examples of logos designed by Maiden Erlegh students can be viewed on their weather website.
Suggest that students write up their experiences in geography lessons or at Weather Club to improve their creative writing skills. Alternatively they could write scientific reports about the weather station and its forecasting accuracy. If the school's weather forecasting is found to be more accurate than national forecasting, this would be a great story to send to the local press and would further strengthen links between the school and the community.
Conduct weather experiments like making a cloud in a bottle or kinesthetic activities such as making their own weather instruments. I invite Year 12 students to participate in these activities with the younger Weather Club members to encourage leadership skills and provide them with extra curricular experience which is useful for their UCAS applications.
Download these ideas as a PDF document (PDF, 12k)
Further information and guidance
You can find out more about the Maiden Erlegh weather station on the school's weather website. Pages of particular interest include:
You can also follow the weather station Twitter account @MEschoolweather
Forums Martin found useful when choosing and setting up the weather station include:
Advice on choosing a weather station is also available from US-based Weather Buffs or on the Prodata website. Further technical information about the Maiden Erlegh weather station model can be found on the Vantage Vue website.
The Royal Meteorological Society has produced a number of guides to help you set up and manage a weather station and advice on recording weather observations.
If you have any questions about this case study, please contact Martin Sutton.
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