Cloud Study Investigators: Using NASA's CERES S'COOL in Problem-Based Learning

By Moore, Susan; Popiolkowski, Gary | Science Scope, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Cloud Study Investigators: Using NASA's CERES S'COOL in Problem-Based Learning


Moore, Susan, Popiolkowski, Gary, Science Scope


Imagine this: You and your team of researchers are studying your most recent observations. Each clue or bit of evidence must be analyzed and categorized, and results shared with colleagues working toward the same scientific goal. What is unique about this investigation? You are a middle school student; your colleagues include local, national, and international elementary, middle, and high school students; and, your team is contributing ground truth data to a NASA cloud investigation! (Ground truthing is the process of sending technicians, in this case students, to gather information that either agrees or disagrees with the data collected by aerial photography, the satellites, or infrared images.)

This article describes how, by incorporating NASA's Students' Cloud Observations On-Line (S'COOL) project into a problem-based learning (PBL) activity, middle school students are engaged in authentic scientific research where they observe and record information about clouds and contribute ground truth data to NASA's Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) experiment.

The education outreach point of view

S'COOL is a hands-on project that supports NASA research on the Earth's climate. Science, math, and geography are used as students observe, compute, and locate vital information through ground truth observations for NASA's space-based CERES instrument For example, scientists are especially interested in how well the CERES instrument distinguishes cold conditions on Earth's surface (such as snow and ice) from cold conditions in the atmosphere (such as cirrus clouds). Students' observations of the surface conditions and their ground-based view of clouds contribute to that research. Students employ skills used by research scientists including peer training, data collection and analysis, collaboration, and communication. Students observe cloud characteristics, surface conditions, and weather data, and send the information to NASA by completing a simple online form. Participation in S'COOL is free of charge. Instructions for the online registration, along with information on how to observe, record, and submit observations, can be found on the S'COOL website (http://science-edu. larc.nasa.gov/SCOOL). The S'COOL project meets the National Science Education Standard A: Abilities Necessary to Do Scientific Inquiry (NRC 1996).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

FIGURE 1

Screenshot of a portion of a
satellite overpass schedule

Items Entered From Overpass Request Form

CERES on Spacecraft: AQUA
Daylight Saving Flag: on
UT Offset: -4

Start Date (month-day-year): 06-13-2011
End Date (month-day-year): 06-17-2011

An Overpass Schedule Is Being Sent To You Via E-mail.

Daytime Passes:

      Local
                       Local
Month    Day    Year   Time      UT

6         13    2011   13:32   17:32
6         13    2011   15:00   19:00
6         14    2011   14:14   18:14
6         15    2011   14:57   18:57
6         16    2011   14:02   18:02
6         17    2011   14:45   18:45

(UT = Universal Time)
Local Time = UT + (-4)

The S'COOL program provides a simple and effective means for educators to bring authentic science into their teaching practice. Observations require no expensive equipment or extensive training, yet make a meaningful contribution to our understanding of the planet and the role that clouds play in our climate. S'COOL currently has over 90,000 observations from 3,170 participants, representing all 50 states in the United States and 82 countries around the world.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

Analysis of matches

Ideally, students go outside to make their cloud observations within 15 minutes before or after an overpass of either the Terra or Aqua satellite on which the CERES instrument is mounted. Through the S'COOL website, the teacher can request an overpass schedule (Figure 1) to select a day and time that best suits the class. …

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