The University Record, March 7, 1994

Sunny skies to shine on elementary, secondary schools

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

Perry J. Samson wants to bring the world of weather to the desk of every elementary and secondary school student in Michigan.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Samson and his students are developing a full-color interactive software package called Blue-Skies that will provide access to U.S. Weather Service databanks and environmental monitoring data from space satellites. Samson is professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences.

“Weather is the one area of science that affects everyone every day,” Samson said. “It’s a great way to bring science into the context of each student’s daily life, and help students understand the long-term changes taking place in Earth’s climate and environment.”

With Blue-Skies, an Apple Macintosh personal computer, a high-speed telecommunications modem and a standard telephone line, Michigan students can track approaching storm fronts, check on local weather conditions around the world, monitor the growth of the ozone hole over Antarctica, study acid rain changes in North America during the past decade, and see pictures taken from space satellites within the past hour.

“Blue-Skies gives students the tools they need to explore hundreds of real-time weather and environmental images,” Samson said. “The software was designed to provide a user-friendly interface, so students with a minimal computer background can find the information they need.”

According to Samson, the NSF will use Blue-Skies and the state of Michigan as a demonstration of how computer networking technology can help integrate aspects of science education reform. The goal of Samson’s Weather Underground project is incorporating computer technology into the elementary and secondary school science curriculum.

Michigan school students will access Blue-Skies through MichNet—a statewide computer network operated by Merit Network Inc. that is accessible with a local telephone call in 22 Michigan cities. Once they are logged onto MichNet, students also will be able to use Internet—the international computer network that links scientists and researchers all over the world.

“Michigan’s unique network resources allow access to the vast world of the Internet and outstanding tools, such as Blue-Skies,” said Dana Sitzler, K-12 Outreach Coordinator for Merit. “This application provides a concrete reason to expand the information superhighway to the K-12 community.”

Eventually, Samson wants to upgrade Blue-Skies into a fully interactive system. “We want to develop a wide variety of activities on Blue-Skies that will help students see science as something they can use every day,” Samson said. “Students will record and enter local temperatures and precipitation amounts into Blue-Skies. Their data will be combined with data received from the National Weather Service, so students will see their own school displayed on Blue-Skies’ new interactive weather maps. We also plan to conduct statewide competitions between schools for the most accurate weather forecast.”

Blue-Skies is currently being tested in science classes at several schools, including Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High School.

“The greatest challenge we face now is developing curriculum activities to take advantage of this new accessibility to real-time information,” Samson said. “We’re assembling a core group of enthusiastic teachers to design and test the new curriculum, and looking for parents and student teachers with science or technical backgrounds to assist teachers who want to use the software in their classrooms.”

Currently, Blue-Skies is available only for Apple Macintosh personal computers. An IBM-PC version of the software will be available later this year. Hardware requirements, in addition to the Macintosh, are a color monitor and a high-speed modem (9,600-baud or faster), and a telephone line installed in the classroom.

“The school system can purchase all necessary hardware for about $2,000,” Samson said. “We have even established a computer loaner program for teachers who want to try Blue-Skies for a short period to demonstrate the value of a computer hook-up to administrators or parents.

“Our goal is to help Michigan students become active participants in the collection, reporting and analysis of weather and environmental information as it happens,” Samson said.

Blue-Skies was one of several educational software packages featured at an NSF-sponsored conference on education reform held in Washington, D.C., in February.

Michigan teachers who want more information or have questions about Blue-Skies should write to: Weather Underground, U-M, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2143, or call 936-0503.