Saturday, January 5, 2013

High School Students Engage in Climate Research

Please note that this is a guest post by Rich Kurtz, a teacher from Commack, NY state

A few years ago I had a student interested in climate change, my job as a science teacher was to work with the student to help her develop a project.  In a circuitous way my student and I were introduced to Mr. John Buchanan, the Climate Change Student Outreach Chairperson for the Casualty Actuarial Society.  Mr. Buchanan helped us develop a project using data from logbooks of weather from the 1700’s recorded by a Philadelphia farmer, Phineas Pemberton.  
Phineas Pemberton sample log page Jan. 1790, Philadelphia

My student was given the opportunity to present her data at the 3rd ACRE Workshop, Reanalysis and Applications conference in Baltimore, MD.  That meeting opened up the door to authentic learning opportunities for my students.  At the meeting I had the privilege of meeting scientists and educators from a broad spectrum of organizations.  Those professionals inspired me to investigate the possibility of introducing my students to the issues of climate change using historical weather data.   This has been a fruitful avenue of authentic learning experiences for my high school students.  With the help of outside mentors and ambitious and hardworking students we have been able to locate and use historical weather data for science research projects.  
Currently we are engaged in two projects.  One project involves digitizing data from weather records from logbooks recorded at Erasmus HallSchool in Brooklyn, NY between 1826 and 1849.  Cary Mock of the University of South Carolina told me about the logbooks, they are housed at the New York City Historical Society.  One of my students photographed the entire set of logbooks and is using those photos to digitize the data and explore and compare weather trends and changes.   
Erasmus High sample log entry from January 1852 (Brooklyn, New York)
Another project involves a group of students who have volunteered to digitize weather and lake height data from Mohonk Preserve in the New Paltz area of New York State.  After reading about a presentation about climate change given by the director of the preserve I contacted her and asked if there was anything that my students could volunteer to help with, with respect to weather data.  She was excited to get our students involved in digitizing their weather and lake water level records going back to the 1880s.  The students are currently putting the data from the logs into a database from with they will develop research questions from which they will formulate an investigation.   
Sample log entry from Mohonk Lake Preserve area (upstate New York), January 1890
I think that there is a lot of interest among teachers to get their students involved with authentic projects.  The advantage of working on historical weather projects is that it is an area of study that merges many aspects of learning.  A historical weather project can bring together topics in history, science, math and helps students with their organizational skills.  My students sometimes have the opportunity to consult with a professional scientist.  These areas all touch upon skills that we want our students to acquire.
I would like to acknowledge some of the people who have helped me with my work with students. Mr. John Buchanan, the Climate Change Student Outreach Chairperson for the Casualty Actuarial Society.  Mr. Eric Freeman, from the National Climactic Data Center, Mr. Gilbert Compo, from the Climate Diagnostics Center NOAA and Cary Mock of the Department of Geography, University of South Carolina.

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