In-School Visits Inspire Future Weather Scientists
By MWOBS Staff

2023 has been a pivotal year for educational programs at the Mount Washington Observatory (MWOBS). “This year, we’ve seen explosive growth both in the interest in our programming, and also in the programs we’ve developed here,” Brian Fitzgerald, Director of Education, explains. These programs have included spring field trips, summer camp programs, after-school, virtual learning, and in-school programs featuring backpack and weather instrument giveaways. The excitement generated by the in-school visits and giveaways was of particular note to Jackie Bellefontaine, who headed the program this season.

“With a mission to support STEM learning and data literacy in rural communities,” Bellefontaine states, “the Observatory provided 800 middle school students across the White Mountains and Western Maine with backpacks stuffed with weather kits. These kits included wireless temperature stations, National Weather Service Cloud Charts, and other weather/weather safety-related materials.”

Throughout this campaign, MWOBS educators journeyed to 22 middle schools to deliver backpacks, meet the students, and inspire them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Some classrooms immediately began to incorporate the wireless temperature stations into their curriculum. For example, teachers had their students record the temperature outside of their homes and the temperature at the summit of Mount Washington every morning to create a temperature comparison graph.

Weather data tables and graphs created by Lin-Wood Public School’s seventh grade.

I have used various resources from MWOBS over the years, everything from in-depth weeks of CODAP data units, to distance learning sessions and casually checking the current conditions page, and even had in-person visits to the summit with 7th and 8th graders!” Said Rebecca Steeves, a 7th & 8th Science Teacher at Lin-Wood Public School in Lincoln, New Hampshire. “Though I do not have 1 comprehensive unit surrounding Mount Washington, I incorporate these resources and information when we are learning about weather, geology, graphs and even general NH trivia! In addition, the students are always amazed when we periodically check the conditions on the summit and compare it to what we have here in town; this generates good questions and discussions.”

One Groveton student went home so excited that he had his family member immediately install the temperature station on a tree in his yard. He then took it upon himself to begin his own data chart and start tracking temperature at his home and on Mount Washington prior to instruction from teacher Patti Dugan-Henriksen. This is a key takeaway the program aims for: getting students excited to learn about weather.

“My 7th graders became very interested in weather after receiving the backpacks with the weather stations from the Observatory,” said Patti Dugan-Henricksen, a seventh grade teacher at Groveton Middle School in New Hampshire. “We’ve done weather observations before, but students didn’t have great follow-through. They loved being able to use their weather stations and collect info at home. They also have become very interested in following the weather at the summit.”

Groveton students with their new backpacks.

Beyond supporting weather and climate lessons, the backpacks helped support some outdoor learning adventures. Below, Lafayette students used their new Cotopaxi x EMS backpacks as “adventure packs” as they hiked up to Lonesome Lake for a fun day outside of the classroom.

“The value of the MWOBS program in my classroom is to provide science education through the Observatory in real time to ask their ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions,” explains Holly Munce, a third grade teacher at Berlin Elementary School. “Students are going to be able to apply the scientific method in the classroom but at the same time virtually with the scientists and staff at MWOBS. Students are also taking away that science is everywhere, and the same science that is being used on top of Mr. Washington is applicable to their everyday life. In education we say, ‘constructing is learning,’ and students are constructing and creating their own understanding in the classroom in the ways the staff and scientists on Mount Washington are. It’s so exciting!”

“Connecting with classrooms that haven’t experienced the mountain before, or interacted with the Observatory, has been incredibly exciting for me,” Bellefontaine explains. “Watching students’ faces drop when I tell them about the record setting 231 MPH, hearing them burst out laughing when watching the “Breakfast of Champions” video, and seeing them jump up in excitement when I show them a picture of Nimbus are unforgettable experiences. With maybe a little bit of bias, I think this mountain is the best. So, it’s a real treat to be able to share it with young students.”

Not only has the giveaway helped support STEM curricula in the White Mountains and Maine, but it has also showed students that they have an exciting scientific institution and resource right in their backyards; a rapport the Education team hopes to build on in the years to come.

“I’m thrilled for what’s to come for our education team in 2024,” says Bellefontaine. “The students I’ve been privileged to connect with are so intrigued and excited by Mount Washington and MWOBS’ work on the summit. We can’t wait to continue supporting their STEM learning, teaching them about the ‘Home of the World’s Worst Weather,’ and getting them to the top!”

The plan in the coming year includes continuing the development and implementation innovative educational programs and resources for K-12 students, educators, and adult learners alike. Expect to see these educators leading field trips to the summit, making in-classrooms visits, and educating learners of all ages on the forces that drive Earth’s weather and climate.

Learn more about MWOBS’ educational programming by visiting mountwashington.org/education or by contacting our School Programs Coordinator at education@mountwashington.org or (603) 356-2137 ext. 204.

Mount Washington Observatory is a nonprofit research and educational institution. Giving to the Observatory will increase capacity to carry out meaningful scientific research, expand educational programs, and continue forecasting and recording the world’s most extreme weather. Consider supporting our work with a gift of any amount

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