Students welcome summer and storms

For students of the Monster Storms Weather Enrichment course, learning doesn’t stop in the summer, it only becomes more of a whirlwind.

Maddie Keran (left), Sarah Olson (center) and Olivia Ellenbecker try to find the indoor dew point by placing a thermometer in room temperature water and adding ice. Photo by Bethany Kemming
Maddie Keran (left), Sarah Olson (center) and Olivia Ellenbecker try to find the indoor dew point by placing a thermometer in room temperature water and adding ice. Photo by Bethany Kemming

From the fierce hurricanes to the small dew point changes, students  learned about the many aspects of weather through their hands-on course at Jackson Middle School Observatory (JMO) from June 11 to 14.

With JMO Coordinator DeLaura McLellan leading the way, seven incoming sixth- through eighth-graders from around Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 used videos, textbooks, games, labs and activities to learn the science of weather.

“I was scared of storms when I was little so I wanted to learn about them now,” student Maddie Keran said.

Throughout the week students frequently used The JASON Project curriculum. They completed online labs and played games like Storm Tracker, which allows students to predict the track of a historical hurricane using many of the same methods weather forecasters use.

For Olivia Zahansky, the course is preparation for the future.

“When I grow up I want to work with weather,” she said.

McLellan is a national trainer for the JASON Project curriculum and has trained teachers to use it all over the world.

“What I really enjoy is the fact that the students make connections with real researchers and participate in science that is happening now,” McLellan said.

While working on the storms curriculum McLellan actually encountered many storms, either while in a webcast or with a team of teachers. Even on the last day of this course the weather was turbulent, with heavy rain, thunder and lightning.

“This curriculum always brings storms,” McLellan joked.

Students participated in activities inside and outside the classroom: identifying cloud types, making a cloud in a bottle, making a small water cycle, measuring dew point, reading a weather map and interpreting data.

After learning about the structure of air, the sun and the water cycle the first two days, students put together what they learned on Wednesday to focus on tornadoes.

They learned about about the dew point and the dry line, which can be used to predict tornadoes, and made their own “tornado” in a bottle with confetti for debris.

McLellan taught students about the air pressure in a tornado, and how it helped National Geographic Severe Storms Researcher Tim Samaras.

Samaras created a probe that remains stationery when a tornado passes over it because of the air pressure pushing it down.

On a larger scale, students had the opportunity to use the observatory’s telescope to view the sun, moon, Jupiter and Venus, which is still visible in the sky after the transit on June 5.

At the observatory, McLellan had a live connection with NASA during the transit through its digital learning network. Around 200 people visited the observatory to see the transit, according to McLellan.

There is also a large planetarium screen in the observatory, which students used to learn more about the individual planets and how the earth’s position in the solar system affects its weather.

The observatory is available for use by all teachers in the district.

The storms course was one of six science technology engineering math enrichment courses offered this summer through the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Bethany Kemming is at [email protected]