Reprinted from the proceedings of the Seventh Symposium on Education
held in conjunction with the 78th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society
January 1998 - Phoenix, Arizona
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE K-12 EDUCATION
OUTREACH PROGRAMS-WHERE THEY STAND AND
THEIR EFFECTS ON THE EDUCATIONAL COMMUNITY
Eleanor Vallier-Talbot *
NOAA/NWS Forecast Office, Boston, Massachusetts
The National Weather Service (NWS) has had a strong commitment to various outreach programs throughout the K-12 educational system. However, with shrinking federal budgets and downsizing in NWS national, regional, and local offices, it will be challenging to continue supporting these programs. Fewer NWS meteorologists will be available to travel to schools to give presentations, and local office tours could even be reduced or eliminated due to increasing workloads.
This paper will present the results of two surveys. These surveys will provide a historical look at the support of K-12 educational outreach programs in the NWS' Eastern Region field offices, obstacles that could likely preclude continuation of these programs, how K-12 educators felt about the current NWS Boston Outreach Program, the possible consequences of the elimination of NWS educational programs, and suggestions to keep the NWS active in the K-12 educational arena.
Two surveys were conducted during the late spring and summer of 1997. One survey was given to the NWS Eastern Region Meteorologists in Charge (MICs). They were asked to evaluate their office's past, present, and future support of K-12 education outreach programs on a low, moderate or high basis, and provide comments about their local contributions.
A second survey was mailed to 130 K-12 teachers and administrators throughout the NWS Boston County Warning Area (CWA) who participated in office tours or school visits since 1995. The educators were asked to rate the benefit from the experience (school visit and/or office tour) on a little, moderate or high basis, how this experience enhanced the science curriculum, and what impact would be felt if the NWS Boston reduced or eliminated their Outreach Program for the 1997-98 school year.
3.1 NWS Offices
A total of 30 surveys were electronically mailed to the MICs (or their designated representatives) of the NWS Eastern Region field offices, which include all future National Weather Service Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs), River Forecast Centers (RFCs) and Center Weather Service Units (CWSUs) co-located at Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs). Out of the 30, 24 (80%) responded to this survey.
The results showed that office outreach activity and support for the community were either moderate or high in the past, but that this would markedly fall in the future (see Figure 1). A few respondents felt that their future educational contribution would actually rise from past levels. These respondents were mostly from the WFOs where staffing would be added. However, the majority felt that the office's support would remain the same or decrease, mainly due to staff downsizing and budget reductions.
One question gauged the types of outreach programs that the NWS Eastern Region field offices conducted from 1995 to 1997. These outreach efforts included school visits (SV); office tours (OT); career days (CD); science fair participation (SFP); job shadowing (JS); career counseling (CC); AMS educational initiatives, including Project ATMOSPHERE and DataStreme; educational information and web sites on their Internet home page (IH); internships with college and high school students (INT); and teacher information packets (IP) (see Figure 2). Nine of the respondents also mentioned other educational programs that their offices supported, including the Boy and Girl Scouts, several local non-profit educational initiatives, state science teachers associations, and cooperative efforts with other government agencies, colleges, and universities.
The respondents were asked to estimate how much time per year was given to their outreach programs in terms of a full time equivalent's (FTE) work time. A full time equivalent is defined as one staff member's hours worked in a year, a total of 2080 hours. The responses varied widely, from 2 to 80 percent, but the majority felt that they contributed 10 to 30 percent of a FTE (see Figure 3).
3.2 K-12 Educators
Out of the 130 surveys sent to the K-12 educators, only 61 (47%) returned their completed surveys. These surveys were sent in early June 1997, just before release for summer vacation. The author feels this is the reason why the response was low, but that the results are nonetheless representative of how the program has been accepted in the NWS Boston CWA. The majority of respondents (89%) were classroom teachers, while the remainder were either administrators or counselors that took part in the NWS Boston outreach experience. Each school level was well represented, with 44% K-4 educators responding, 34% in the Grade 5-8 level, and 21% at the high school level (Grades 9-12).
The respondents were asked to rate their outreach experience in terms of the enrichment that the science classes received. Whether the classes were visited by an NWS meteorologist or they traveled to the Taunton office for a tour, the educators overwhelmingly felt that the enrichment was high for the students (see Figure 4). The few that felt either moderate or low enrichment indicated that this was due to the material presented being above or below the particular class' level of understanding. Another question was asked about the overall enhancement to the science curriculum at the schools. Eighty-five percent of the respondents felt that their curricula were enhanced by the Outreach Program. Most of the remaining respondents felt there was some enhancement to their programs.
Finally, the educators were asked to rate the type of impact there would be if the NWS Boston's Outreach Program would be reduced or eliminated for the 1997-98 school year. Again, 85% felt that there would be a moderate to high impact on their school's science curriculum. Several respondents noted that it would not only adversely affect their science curriculum, but other sections of their curricula as well.
4.1 NWS Offices
This author was very surprised and delighted with the results and many comments that the NWS respondents shared about their local K-12 educational outreach contributions. Several offices have very strong Outreach Programs. One office even worked with a local university to receive National Science Foundation (NSF) grant monies to have teachers work in the forecast office. In the early 1990s, NWS Raleigh, North Carolina, helped develop and implement a groundbreaking statewide computer network of school weather stations (Gonski 1992). This information not only helped the NWS with weather data for forecasting, but it also helped the students see real world applications of the data recorded at their schools. Another office, NWS Albany, New York, is working with the State University of New York-University at Albany to produce a videotape for schools. This tape will be viewed during visits to show students career opportunities and educational experiences in meteorology. The staff at the NWS Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (located in Mount Holly, New Jersey), reached nearly 16,000 individuals in the 2-year period from September 1995 to June 1997. The vast majority of these individuals were students in various school systems within their CWA.
When given a section for their comments on local outreach educational efforts, many respondents expressed concern about the major reductions in K-12 educational programs that are likely due to downsizing. One respondent stated that "this is sad...we consider this a very important part of our program." Another felt that outreach was, "(a) very important program but not a priority in the NWS and lacking appropriate resources." Several others were trying to remain positive about keeping some presence in these programs. They were working to streamline their outreach efforts and use their resources more effectively by having larger groups at school visits and limiting office tours to a certain number of days per week or month, trying not to eliminate them entirely. Several of the newer WFOs have found that setting guidelines for their outreach efforts have helped, such as NWS Boston did after moving to the Taunton facility in 1993 (Vallier-Talbot 1997).
Another overriding theme in the comments was that the office staff was trying to provide information while remaining in the local office. Some ideas included more educational information being put on their office's Internet home page, as well as an emphasis on office tours (though on a more limited basis) and sending informational packets to teachers. Several respondents felt that the AMS K-12 educational initiatives, Project ATMOSPHERE and the DataStreme Project, were excellent ways to bring weather into the classrooms. As one put it, "This is a great program, since we are leveraging our limited resources by teaching the teachers." Even with the decreasing support that NWS offices can give to the schools directly, the respondents felt that some resources should be kept involved with the DataStreme Project.
4.2 K-12 Educators
The respondents made many comments about the NWS Boston Outreach Program and its continuation into the future. Whether it was a school visit or office tour, the overwhelming response was that it was highly informative and motivational for the students at all levels. Another overwhelming theme of the comments was that the presenters not only gave educational information, but that they brought a realism to the class that cannot be found with just "book learning," as well as reinforcing classroom studies. When the classes visited the NWS office, they took away much more than just learning what the NWS does. One teacher stated, "This experience had an enormous impact on the students, helping them realize the complexities of the task and the blend of technology and human input, culminating in weather information that affects our population." Another educator commented, "Scientists taking time to share their enthusiasm and expertise is crucial to a strong science curriculum." Many respondents also stated that their outreach experience was the perfect compliment and culmination to their classroom studies. Even the printed materials that were given to the educators made a big difference with their weather presentations in the classroom.
Several of the respondents also mentioned how weather is used not only in their science classes, but across the entire curriculum. A math teacher wrote, "I use the visits to show how math is more than numbers in a classroom. Ideas such as probability, statistics and how larger numbers can demonstrate greater severity all come into play." Other benefits were identified as a result of NWS Boston's outreach efforts. A guidance counselor involved with the school's science program commented, "Having a female meteorologist as one presenter has sparked several female students to view science and science careers as more accessible. This is an enormous outcome to me as a counselor who encourages exploration of any and all areas of learning and opportunity."
When asked to describe the impact on their school's curriculum were the Outreach Program to be reduced or eliminated, many respondents were very vocal in depicting the validity and necessity of this program. A principal wrote, "Please consider continuing these programs. They are the kind of experience that has a significant impact in a young person when they consider the value of school and the kinds of jobs they would like to pursue later in life."
Other comments included:
• "A 'hands on' or 'eyewitness' experience, especially in science, is very critical to a student's understanding, appreciating and assimilating the information presented. We would be greatly disheartened to see this wonderful program eliminated."
• "In an age when we are encouraging educators to use hands on tools and relate to real world experiences, this program is needed."
• "The students need the educational and direct contact with scientists, specialists and professionals provided through the NWS. The Outreach Program provided immediate assistance to student and staff requests and concerns. The program and services provided the students with both the first hand contact with meteorologists and with motivational activities, projects and student real world studies not available through the school curriculum."
• "It was a great opportunity for the students to hear first hand what it is like to work as a meteorologist today with the NWS. The students had many opportunities to ask questions as the information was being presented. If the Outreach Program were eliminated, they would miss out on a fun and very educational class. It is so important to capture students' interests, and the Outreach Program does just that."
• "Our science curriculum would be highly affected because the NWS guest speakers are our most effective presenters of the entire year. Prior to having speakers from the NWS, our presentation of weather was adequate at best. Speaking with a real meteorologist truly allows the students to understand complicated weather concepts."
• "I think that the NWS should expand its program for students (especially since it's funded by our tax dollars)."
• "Your program gives my program validity. It is essential that I have a recognized scientific community backing my curriculum."
• "We feel it is an invaluable experience for our students to have direct contact with people of various careers as they are deciding what profession to go into and what major to select for college. The visits from the NWS meteorologist are something we look forward to each year."
• "Our library has a weather resource center of books and weather instrumentation available to students and teachers. Students report weather observations to television and radio stations and on the Internet. All of this science and technology would not be valuable to our students without the help, sharing of information and encouragement from the NWS Outreach Program. It would be a valuable resource lost to our students, our school and our town."
The survey results and comments received by this author confirm the high commitment that the offices in the NWS Eastern Region share for K-12 educational efforts. It also confirms that many of these offices will likely devise and implement programs to keep a presence in K-12 education, even with cutbacks and downsizing. The K-12 educational community also feels that it is extremely important to keep professional scientists in touch with students, whether in the classroom or during visits to local NWS offices. Educators want to see these types of outreach programs continue. With the use of the Internet, educational videotape development and creative work scheduling, NWS meteorologists will likely continue to touch the scientific minds of school children well into the future.
The author would like to thank all of the NWS Eastern Region representatives that responded to their survey and gave their honest views about this important office function. The author would also like to thank the educators throughout the NWS Boston CWA (Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire, Rhode Island and northern Connecticut) that responded to their survey and helped make the results valuable and creditable. The author also gratefully acknowledges the help of James Lee, Science and Operations Officer at the NWS Boston, for his review of the survey questions and this manuscript, along with his critical and informative suggestions for improvements.
Gonski, R., 1992: School weather network - a cooperative effort. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 73, 628-630.
Vallier-Talbot, E., 1997: How to have a successful outreach program at a National Weather Service Forecast Office. Preprints, Sixth Symposium on Education, Long Beach, CA, Amer. Meteor. Soc., 7-10.
*Corresponding author address: Eleanor Vallier-Talbot, NOAA/National Weather Service, 445 Myles Standish Blvd., Taunton, MA 02780-7328; e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>