South Charlotte

High chance of learning in the forecast for today

A fresh-faced 10-year-old student stands in front of a map of the United States with big H's and L's placed strategically on specific regions of the country.

Another student is manning the video camera.

In the next minute and a half, the student at the map delivers a straightforward no-frills account of the Charlotte weather forecast that is then uploaded to the Internet.

Twenty-four fourth-graders at the Charlotte Preparatory School on Boyce Road not only are learning the ins and outs of how to present a weather forecast every school day, but they also are learning the science of meteorology.

Alan Lenz, head of the Lower School, thought weather forecasting would be a great way to teach the math and science of meteorology in a meaningful way. He got the idea to record and upload the forecast performances from a colleague in Boston.

The kids have taken to the concept like storm chasers take to tornadoes.

"There's a novelty to this," said Lenz, referring to meteorology. "If we can spark an interest in the kids now and they develop an interest in this science, it will pay off later for them."

Once the Charlotte Preparatory School Parent's Association heard about the weather station project, they put together funding to make the project a reality.

The weather station unit is made up of a wireless weather station at the school's mobile science lab and a digital desktop unit several hundred feet away, in Lenz's office. The weather station can measure barometric pressure, temperature, humidity and rainfall, and the speed and direction of the wind.

"It's a pretty neat little unit for $600," said Lenz.

The weather forecast officially went online in September. Lenz said even though meteorology is only one learning component of the year's science curriculum for fourth grade, the weather station provides an ongoing learning tool. It's an interactive, hands-on way for the kids to learn the information, at an age-appropriate level.

Gauging from the kid's level of enthusiasm, the fun component also is high. They are learning the meaning of weather terms and daily weather statistics are being charted for future study. They use the National Weather Service website to study national maps and radar.

"The kids surmise that when a low pressure is next to a high pressure, some kind of precipitation is going to happen," Lenz said. "With all the data they collect, they make their best guess to forecast what the weather will be that day." The experience has also helped stir an interest in what local TV weather forecasters are reporting and offers them a comparison.

Probably the best perk for these budding weather professionals is videotaping their forecasts for worldwide viewers. Each fourth-grader gets a chance to do the weather for two weeks, giving them the opportunity to become comfortable with not only the scientific aspect of the project but presenting it to the public.

Lenz hopes the daily data collected will provide expanded learning opportunities. The data are being added to spreadsheets that will give future fourth-graders an opportunity for higher levels of math and data interpretation.

"Where else can you get away with not having to be 100 percent accurate? Here the kids can learn that if they're not right, what went wrong? There are lessons to be learned in each," said Lenz.