Most people who want to know the weather turn on the local TV news. But when the forecasters at Channel 10 in Knoxville, Tennessee, want to know the weather in Lenoir City, about 30 miles to the southwest, they turn to Gladys Dyer's 4th grade class.
Dyer and her 26 students became amateur meteorologists in 1996. Channel 10, an NBC affiliate, had started a network of remote school-based weather-reporting stations a few years earlier, and it was eager to have a tracking site in Lenoir City, a town of 6,147 that had been struck by a tornado in the early 1990s.
When her classroom was picked as a reporting station, Dyer turned that bit of good fortune into a curricular unit encompassing math, science, and social studies--not to mention reading, writing, and even art. The outdoor instruments set up by Channel 10 send a constant stream of data into Dyer's classroom on temperature, wind, humidity, barometric pressure, and a host of other weather indicators. "The windy days are the students' favorites because they love to watch the gauge to see how strong the wind gets," the 28-year veteran of the Lenoir schools says in a soft accent that hints at her eastern Tennessee roots.
As the weather data enters the classroom, it also enters the curriculum; students use the real-time information to create charts and graphs that track what is happening outside the building. They also keep yearlong journals to identify long-term weather patterns and trends. As an art project, the kids make rain sticks--hollow tubes filled with pins, pebbles, or rice so that they make a rainlike noise when inverted. And when the unit turns to the study of hurricanes and the far-reaching effects of the monster storms, social studies come into play. The devastation that Hurricane Mitch wreaked upon impoverished Latin American countries this fall, for example, offered Dyer a chance to mix lessons on science, economics, and politics.
Thanks to some new technology, Dyer has expanded her weather study beyond the information that flows in from the Channel 10 instruments. She now captures live radar images from the Internet so her students can see rain storms as they approach Lenoir. The kids are excited about the high-tech, hands-on work from the first day they walk into the classroom, she says. "A few kids have said they want to be meteorologists, and one boy went to the TV station to watch them do the weather."
So far this year, Lenoir's weather has been unremarkable; the wind gauge outside Dyer's class has reached 40 miles per hour only once. But strong storms usually rake the area in the spring, making for great weather-watching. When a severe thunderstorm lashes the classroom windows or a tornado watch is posted for Lenoir, some youngsters get frightened. But Dyer eases their fears by teaching them exactly what's brewing. "I just try not to alarm the kids," she says. "And if we look at the storms scientifically, they don't get worried."
Vol. 10, Issue 4, Page 70Published in Print: January 1, 1999, as Weather Watchers