The weather - a topic for all seasons!

Angella Streluk
History and Geography Co-ordinator at Amington Heath Community School
Alan Rodgers
ICT Co-ordinator at Amington Heath Community School
This article first appeared in MAPE Focus on Science Autumn 2000

Have you seen The Staffordshire School Weather Data Site?

It's part of the Staffordshire Learning NET and is one of many Web projects funded by Staffordshire and developed by Staffordshire advisers, teachers and pupils.

In September 2000 the National Curriculum, as published in 1999, applies to 'pupils of compulsory school age'. The requirements for use of ICT have been made clearer, and have been included in all subjects. In the Science document there are numerous references to ICT, some in the form of requirements, some as useful ideas for putting requirements into practice. Although the study of the weather clearly fits into the Geography curriculum, it also is a perfect topic for practising Science (and Mathematical!) skills.

In KS2 Sc1 Scientific enquiry there are at least four items which could be partly covered by weather data collection:

It was with this obvious educational purpose in mind, and with the idea of drawing other schools into a joint project, that we submitted a bid for the development of web-based curriculum materials for the Staffordshire Learning Net1. We were pleased to be told that we were successful and were allocated funding and a supervisor. Kate Russell, Geography Adviser with Quality Learning Services, has been untiring in her help as our supervisor.

The site was duly named The Staffordshire School Weather Data Site2. Our idea was to provide a group of schools with basic weather collecting apparatus, develop a common data collection method, and provide a means of instructing children in how to collect weather data. It also must be obvious from the site that we are keen on inclusion of weather data collection in the curriculum for other reasons. We wanted to bring back some of the excitement and magic which may have been lost from the primary school curriculum.

What better way of developing independence, promoting curiosity in our surroundings, and making pupils aware of the significance of Science in our everyday lives?

Although the site has several aspects, there are two key ones. The first is to instruct both teachers and pupils in how to produce reliable weather data.

There are simple rules for using measures which can help avoid errors. When the data has been collected there are also likely to be helpful techniques which will show up any incorrect data.

Some illustrations on the web show how not to do something and how to do it. This is particularly relevant to using the scale on a rain gauge. We are always trying to get pupils to place the measure on a flat surface. It can make a huge difference to the recorded rainfall if you tip the gauge!

Reading any scale can be difficult. Many read in different directions or have different calibrations.

Some have 'pins' or 'needles' to show maximum and minimum readings. How are these read? There is some explanation for this on the web site. A quiz is being developed, which tests pupils' skills at reading various scales.

The other important aspect of the site is the data collection from around Staffordshire. Five schools are ready to collect data which will be put onto the site. Visitors will then be able to make comparisons between the data. As yet we do not know how the data will compare, but Staffordshire is a varied county, and the schools are in very different locations.

The schools taking part are marked on a map of Staffordshire. The map itself is an image map, and visitors can click on the schools' links to go to their data pages. We are grateful to pupils and staff of Woodhouse Middle School in Biddulph, St. Leonard's Primary School in Stafford, Westfield Primary School in Wombourne, Tynsel Parkes CE First School in Uttoxeter and Amington Heath Community School in Tamworth for their willingness to take part in the project. A team of keen weather watchers from all over Staffordshire will be busily collecting their data at 9 o'clock each school morning. The schools will be using a preprepared Excel file to enter their data into. This will standardise the presentation of the data. It also has built-in graphs which enable the pupils to visually check their data. As they type in, for instance, the wet and dry temperatures, a graph grows. If the wet temperature is seen to go higher than the dry temperature they will know that they have made a mistake.

Other graphs serve a similar purpose. Using a pre-prepared file gives staff and pupils an opportunity to see the potential of programs such as Excel, and use them for a real purpose. They may then transfer the skills acquired to other science work.

The equipment bought for the schools is also uniform. Although basic, it contains everything needed. It includes a small Stevenson Screen, wet and dry bulb hygrometers, maximum and minimum thermometers, wind gauge, rain gauge and a barometer. Each kit costs just under 100, which is a very affordable price for most schools. The whole kit was bought from a popular educational supplier.

These instruments were used in the illustrations on the site, to make it easier for the pupils to learn how to read the scales.

There are references to use of ICT for actual sensing of weather. Data logging is included in the science National Curriculum. The apparatus used for this can be used to sense temperature throughout the day, measure light readings, or used to record wind speed in different locations. Although portables and PCs are useful some very cheap remote temperature sensing kit can be bought and used separate from a computer. The sensor in the illustration is of a fairly modest price and available from High Street electrical outlets.

The site itself is written specifically with primary pupils in mind. Many sites which purport to be for children still seem very adult in their presentation, or else seem to have no real relevance to the education of children. How many have you seen with adverts all over them? We have tried to make the site visually acceptable but clear enough for the information to be used. The web skills needed to navigate the site are the same as for any site. The inclusion of a Contents page was meant to make navigation easier for the beginner. There are image maps, straightforward URL links and the usual use of links at the bottom of pages.

Although the site relies heavily on illustrations, the pictures have been sized to make them quicker to load.

Colour has been used in a uniform way to enhance the site, but is not a distraction. Inclusion of a few animations adds interest, but these too have been limited so that they are not a distraction. Great care was taken to use only pictures to which we had the copyright, and a digital camera was essential.

We have tried to draw in pupils from schools in other countries round the world. Although the contacts which we have had are very positive it can be difficult to get responses in any number. One has to use all sorts of contacts and devices. We are lucky to have an ancillary with a granddaughter in Australia.

The weather web links were not as easy to find as we thought they would be. Also, once you put web links on a site there is an onus to check them periodically. A favourite page is the general weather page. Here there is a chance to elaborate on weather sayings, include interesting pictures and share weather news.

We hope that the site will help to promote the popular activity of weather data collection and give an opportunity for using scientific approaches and skills. As you may see from our photograph, we are committed weather enthusiasts.

Date

Staffordshire Weather Data Collection Sheet

Date

Day

Max. Temp

Min Temp

Dry Temp

Wet Temp

Humidity

Pressure

Wind Dir

Wind Strength

Cloud Amount

Cloud Type

Rain/ Snow

Present Weather

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1 The Staffordshire Learning Net can be found at http://www.sln.org.uk/

2 The Staffordshire School Weather Data Site is at http://www.amingtonheath.staff.sch.uk/intro.

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