What’s up at the UCAR Office of Education and Outreach?

We all know about the excellent research activities underway across UCAR/NCAR. Not only are our scientists on the forefront of research, but we also provide support for models and facilities that serve the UCAR community. Perhaps less well known to some staff are our institution’s strengths in education and outreach, through which our science is shared with educators, learners, and the public. Numerous groups within UCAR/NCAR/UOP contribute to the organization’s education and outreach mission, goals, and objectives. Below, I’ll provide an update on a few of EO’s specific activities. EO also works to represent and promote UCAR education and outreach programs across the institution and advocates for geoscience education on the national and international levels.

Onsite visitors

Many staff have undoubtedly noticed groups of K–12 students touring the Mesa Lab during the school year and visits by vacationers during the summer months, or been aware of the highly visible public events at the lab. These activities are central to our Public Visitor and Exhibits Programs, which form a cornerstone of EO.

Roberta Johnson

Approximately 80,000 people visit the Mesa Lab annually, ranging from early elementary student groups to scientific delegations and policymakers. Nearly 14,000 students tour the lab annually and participate in hands-on science education activities in our classroom. A lucky subset has the opportunity to visit the Visualization Lab, thanks to collaboration with CISL staff.

Many UCAR staff have also assisted at our annual public event each fall, Super Science Saturday (see page 15). The audience for this event has continued to grow in recent years, reaching about 5,000 in 2007. Super Science Saturday features dynamic science demonstrations, hands-on activities for young people, and opportunities to connect with scientists at the lab and remote locations (including a live link to the Antarctic last year). Susan Foster on our staff does a great job leading a committed team of educators that makes these programs and events possible.

Climate change education

As we all know, the recognition that climate change is real and is already happening has increasingly taken hold with the public. In response, K–12 teachers are eager to learn more about the subject and how to share it with their students. EO has placed an emphasis on climate and global change education since its inception, initiating two-week Climate and Global Change workshops at NCAR offered each year from 2002 to 2005 for 20 teachers drawn from national pools of applicants (with support from NCAR and participation from numerous scientists and staff).

Beginning in 2006, we began work to transform the workshop to a distance learning format, so that more teachers would have the opportunity to benefit from the program. We now offer a set of three online Climate Discovery courses (see below for link): An Introduction to Earth’s Climate, Earth System Science—A Climate Change Perspective, and Understanding Climate Change Today. These courses are offered multiple times each year, with graduate recertification credit available for teachers through the Colorado School of Mines.
We are delighted with how well the distance learning approach is working for course participants, as well as with their enthusiasm for the courses and the ability to reach significantly larger numbers of teachers with this in-depth professional development experience. Sandra Henderson on our staff is doing a great job managing this powerful program.

Professional development

EO also offers dozens of professional development workshops for educators at multiple venues. Our workshops are a significant portion of geoscience offerings available at National Science Teachers Association conferences, which draw thousands of science educators from across the country. We also give workshops at numerous other venues annually, ranging from the Geophysical Information for Teachers workshop at American Geophysical Union meetings to state-based professional development opportunities.

Because of our efforts to provide geoscience educational resources in both English and Spanish, we have also been invited to present workshops in Mexico, Chile, and Argentina. In total, we reach about 3,000 teachers annually through face-to-face professional development activitif8es.

Windows to the Universe

Another of our flagship programs is Windows to the Universe (W2U). This project, consisting of a highly popular education and outreach website and a supporting professional development program, brings the Earth and space sciences to a global audience of the public, students, and educators. The website comprises more than 8,000 interlinked webpages available at three levels of content (upper elementary, middle school/general public, and high school students) in English and Spanish, with an abundance of integrated classroom activities and interactives.

With more than 20 million users annually, W2U is a great place to bring our science to the attention to learners and educators. Just now, the group is completing work on the bilingual portal to share science from the upcoming VOCALS (VAMOS Ocean-Cloud-Atmosphere-Land Study) field campaign taking place in Chile.

Atmospheric Science Literacy Framework

We’ve also been working closely with the science and education communities since November to develop the Framework for Atmospheric Science Literacy, with support from the NSF Geoscience Education Program. With the assistance of John Snow, dean of the College of Geosciences at the University of Oklahoma, we are now almost ready to go to press. The framework will guide educators and the public on the major ideas and concepts that constitute literacy in atmospheric science. Armed with this understanding, people will have the basis to communicate about the atmosphere in a meaningful way and will be equipped to make informed and responsible decisions about activities that impact the atmosphere.

There’s so much more to share. In the coming months we’ll keep you posted on our upcoming citizen science campaigns (Project BudBurst and the Great World Wide Star Count), as well as the Bilingual Science Teachers Annual Research Symposium (BSTARS). Please get in touch with me at rmjohnsn@ucar.edu if you are interested in participating in our education and outreach activities, or would like to work with us to develop education and outreach activities associated with your research. We’re here to help!

On the Web
NCAR Online Education
Windows to the Universe
EO Strategic Plan