Virtual Classroom Inspires Young Homeschooling Student
By MWOBS Staff
Evan Cherepowich studies a snowflake using a precipitation board, microscope, and housing unit, an assembly he was inspired to create following one of the Observatory’s many Virtual Classroom programs. If you value our work in weather and climate education, consider supporting our mission.
As the pandemic changed lives and challenged communities to adapt in 2020, teachers and students found themselves on the front lines of a new reality.
Many schools in the U.S. kept their teachers and students at home, adopting virtual learning to thwart the coronavirus. Communities of learners did their best to stay connected online.
Evan Cherepowich of Rehoboth, MA, a boy who loves learning about weather, science, and space, completed second grade in a virtual setting. His mother Kate described it as “a hard year.”
As schools returned to in-person learning before a vaccine was approved for children under 12, Kate faced a dilemma: enroll her son in school and assume he would be exposed to the virus, or try a safer alternative. They decided to take a leap and homeschool during Evan’s third-grade year.
Taking on the responsibility of a child’s education can be daunting. Selecting curriculum from a multitude of options, creating the home learning environment, harmonizing with a child’s learning style, and other considerations can make homeschooling seem like an outsized challenge.
Determined to succeed, Kate designed a curriculum to follow Massachusetts state standards – including English language arts, math, history and social studies, science, art, physical education, and additional areas of study, with ample time dedicated to weather, space, and other science topics tailored to Evan’s interests.
But worries remained in her mind about making sure Evan had opportunities to connect with other young learners while challenging himself in STEM subject matter areas.
When they discovered Mount Washington Observatory’s Virtual Classroom, they knew they had found a solution.
Launched in early 2020, Virtual Classroom featured weekly educational programs presented live from the Observatory’s weather station on Mount Washington using Zoom and Facebook. Weather Observers & Education Specialists covered cloud types, Earth’s climate system, an introduction to meteorology, climate change, and many other topics across six semesters. A live Q&A during each program allowed thousands of students from across the country to chat with the Observatory’s weather scientists. Recorded programs were posted each week at mountwashington.org, along with enrichment materials for further learning.
“The topics were interesting. Some had a highly motivating wow factor for Evan. And we could go back to the recordings,” Kate said. “We could take it farther and get more tactile at the third-grade level.”
A program on winter precipitation focusing on layers of the atmosphere and how different snowflakes are formed inspired Evan to make a precipitation board using cardboard and felt. He kept it in the freezer until it was time to catch and observe snowflakes.
“We also found the study of snow dendrites so fascinating that we took a deeper dive into the subject,” Kate said. This led to Evan building a microscope housing unit out of cardboard so he could study snowflakes outside during a snowstorm.
“It was literally a snowball of learning for us,” Kate said. Evan was also inspired by Kenneth Libbrecht’s ‘The Secret Life of a Snowflake’ and books about Wilson Alwyn Bentley, also known as Snowflake Bentley, an American meteorologist and innovator who took detailed photographs of snowflakes.
Evan found that he was fascinated with the structure of snowflakes.
Another Virtual Classroom program taught Evan how rime ice and hoar frost are formed, and how to tell the difference while watching live weather cameras at the summit. He found videos of the observers banging the ice off of the instrument tower amusing and was shocked to learn that ice can build up at seven inches per hour and need to be removed every 15 minutes.
In the program about seasons, Kate and Evan enjoyed learning about high and low pressure and the Hadley cell. “We also enjoyed the extra materials such as the SEPUP Seasons Interactive site, which was used not only by us, but by my other son’s sixth grade science class and is now being used by my daughter’s ninth grade AP environmental science class because it so easily shows why our seasons are determined by the earth’s tilt,” Kate said. “Huge ripple effect for that one.”
Other programs that inspired Evan covered the different microclimates of Mount Washington (humid continental, subarctic, and alpine tundra), greenhouse gasses, and climate change.
After two-and-a-half years of virtual learning and homeschooling, Evan is now back to in-person classroom learning at a new school.
“While I am so happy for him to be back in a classroom setting with peers his own age, I miss our lessons and watching his curious little mind work,” Kate said.
Evan’s reward for all of his hard work is his first trip to the summit and a tour of the Observatory, which he and his mother are planning for this spring.
The Observatory looks forward to hosting them!
Evan enjoys a visit to the Museum of Science in Boston.
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