The Powergen Weather Reports Project and ICT

Roy Topping
Halsnead C.P. School
This article first appeared in MAPE Focus on Science Autumn 2000

The Weather Reports Project is a competition organised by the PowerGen electricity generating company in which schools nationwide are invited to undertake a study of their local weather. I decided to enter my Year 4 class (8- and 9-yearolds) into the competition, my term's geography topic being weather, and attended a day-long introduction to the project at my local PowerGen power station. Here I was given a variety of weather monitoring equipment and the brief to incorporate this as much as possible into my curriculum.

The class were thrilled with their new equipment and were soon collecting data, reading scales, using compass points and even producing their own 'homemade' versions of anemometers and weather vanes. However, the main focus of my project was to be ICT. I soon realised that the project was an ideal vehicle for a range of computer programs which would support a variety of cross-curricular activities.

Junior Pinpoint, a data collection program, proved to be an excellent tool for collating all our weather data. A trio of children was given the task of producing the initial survey sheet. They constructed a series of simple questions which related to all the weather elements we were collecting data on, i.e., What type of cloud cover is there? Which direction is the wind coming from? These sheets were then printed off on a daily basis and the collected weather data placed on them. This data was brought back into the classroom and then typed into the computer program.

After a month we attempted to collate all our data and produce our graphs. Unfortunately the graphs were not accurate. One of the options in Junior Pinpoint is that it allows you to view your 'raw' data and we soon noticed that our graphs did not reflect the data we had collected. The problem had been that the program was not only case sensitive but also space sensitive, i.e. if a pupil had entered n.w for wind direction instead of N.W then that data would not be incorporated into the graph for wind direction. The same also applied if extra spaces were included. As all the class had at some time filed the weather data this happened on quite a number of occasions. To solve this problem a pair of 'volunteers' went through all the computerised survey sheets removing all extra spaces and correcting letter case. Once this task had been completed graphs were flowing off the computer with ease.

Graphing our results with Junior Pinpoint was quite a simple procedure. The children merely had to select the relevant survey question they wished to chart, decide on the type of graph (bar chart, line graph or pie chart) they wished to produce, select whether to have a 3D option and press plot. Once they had their chart on screen the toolbar was used to title the graph and label axes. The more able pupils then transferred the data into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to produce a variety of three dimensional charts.

Using Junior Pinpoint, the children composed questions to produce their survey form, transferred information into a computerised database, had the opportunity to scrutinise data and finally collated data in the form of graphs. In producing these graphs the class were introduced to pie charts and the use of graph titles and axis labelling was reinforced.

Microsoft Word was also used throughout the project, and geography was incorporated into the Literacy Hour as the class produced atmospheric story starts and settings based on the weather. As well as story work, the class undertook non-fiction writing, producing scripts for our weather bulletins on 'Halsnead TV' (the school's internal television network) and Word presentations for the rest of the class.

Composing stories and scripts allowed development of the children's basic word processing skills such as how to centre work, underlining, and changing the style and size of text.

The Word presentations, which I was introduced to by Paul Climance at the Knowsley's Beechwood Centre, called for the children to use an even greater range of skills. Working in mixed-ability pairings or trios, the children had first to open a word page and then to open Encarta immediately.

Using the computerised index to find the topic they wished to research, e.g. hurricanes, they would then take notes from the screen. This was a difficult activity for some of the children due to the reading age of Encarta (an encyclopedia with a lower reading age would have been preferable but was not available at the time) but by using children of mixed ability each group was able to accomplish this task. Having completed their notes the children then found a picture, diagram or photograph to illustrate their work and this was copied using the dropdown menu. Encarta was then reduced to the lower menu bar and the notes taken were recomposed and transferred to the opened word page. Once the children had composed their presentation and chosen the style of text then their illustration was added. The chosen illustration was pasted into the document via the upper toolbar and positioned where required. By clicking the right mouse button on the illustration a picture toolbar appears and by selecting the cropping tool the illustration could be adjusted to size, removing any unwanted material. Once completed these word presentations were saved and at a later date they were shown to the class.

Powerpoint, a computer generated slide-show which is usually used in managerial presentations, provided another presentation tool that was again used by pairs or trios of mixed-ability children.

Throughout the project, this program, with its sound and transition effects, proved the most popular with children giving up their break time to work on it!

Using reference books, the children researched their chosen topic and made their own notes; once these had been checked they were allowed to begin work on their presentation.

On opening the program the children selected a 'blank presentation' and this offered them a series of slide designs to choose from.

My only stipulation was that the slide show had to start with a title slide denoting the topic and the show's authors. There are a whole variety of slide designs to chose from. As well as text you can add Word Art, Clip Art, digital photographs or scanned illustrations to the differing slides. Unfortunately though, I had little relevant Clip Art to chose from, no digital camera or use of a scanner, so the camera or use of a scanner, so the finished slides were basically text in the form of bullet points and Word Art. Once slides had been completed with bullet points and any form of relevant illustration the children went away to compose their scripts which were to accompany the different slides. After the scripts had been produced then the children were allowed to experiment with different backgrounds and transition effects, usually choosing to end the show with applause!

The Powerpoint presentations were not only shown within the class but our Year 2 and 5 classes were also enraptured audiences.

The scripts for the weather bulletins on 'Halsnead TV' were also destined for an audience and this was a great motivational tool. In preparing our weather bulletins for 'Halsnead TV' the class was split into different teams, each with their own responsibility.

One team of children was responsible for collecting the data from our weather monitoring equipment and recording relevant observations on the prepared Pinpoint survey sheets. These sheets were then passed onto the computer team who placed the information into the Pinpoint database. The survey sheets were then passed onto the script-writers.

Another team used the school's Internet connection to gather further information using Yahoo Weather and the Met Office website. Satellite photographs and local forecasts were copied and these were also passed onto the script writers who now word processed a short-range weather forecast for broadcast. The final team were the presenters who read out our forecast on the school's internal TV station. The teams were constantly changed and there was healthy competition as each team attempted to produce the best broadcast.

The Weather Reports Project allowed me to use a range of different computer programs in the classroom and gave the children a real purpose to their work. The class thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the project and in undertaking the work associated with it they clearly enhanced their ICT skills, including basic independent use of computer programs, retrieving and organising information, using a database and finally using software to communicate ideas and information.

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