Sixth-graders help NASA in science class
STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Turn of River Middle School sixth-graders have been keeping their heads in the clouds this school year -- and doing a really good job at it.
Students in Brian Butera `s science class have spent the last several months observing and recording characteristics of clouds floating over Stamford in a project that has provided valuable data to NASA's cloud observation program. During a three-month stretch, Butera's students recorded more than 1,250 observations, which were uploaded to NASA's website and used to help validate observations made by three of its satellites.
"Basically, NASA wanted to validate their satellite instruments," Butera said on a recent morning, as he sat in his science classroom at the school.
The students ventured outside during the short times the satellites passed over Stamford, recording their own observations about clouds they saw including their opacity, atmospheric level and other attributes, along with further weather information.
They then compared their observations with those made by the satellites to help scientists further evaluate the information the satellites gather.
"The reason we're studying clouds right now is that it's important to our climate," said Sarah Crecelius , a NASA associate outreach coordinator. "It affects everything we do. Clouds affect our temperatures and let us live on Earth."
For 11-year-old Elizabeth Baresh, the months-long unit allowed her to take science personally.
"I prefer hands-on activities, so you can actually experience your studies, so this was very exciting and interesting," she said.
Butera said the project has an impact beyond science class.
"This is part of real-life research," he said. "And they're looking for data that can add information about whether we're becoming a cold or hot planet -- in terms of our atmosphere, what's happening here on Earth. It gave the students a real-world application. Working with NASA, they realized the work that they're doing wasn't just for the classroom, but for a national sense as well."
Classrooms across the nation and in 83 countries are participating in the project. But in May, Butera's classes were recognized for churning out a staggering amount of data. The flood of findings coming from Turn of River contributed to a record 855 observations gathered by NASA in April 2012.
"Working with NASA is exciting, because I never thought I could actually be a part of something like this," said Escarlin Perez , 12, who turned in more than 20 cloud data observations for the project.
"You feel like you're a part of history. Like you're making something," said Erica Shaulson, 12.
Butera said he first became acquainted with the lesson, formally known as the Student Cloud Observations On-Line (S'COOL) project, at a conference in Florida last summer. From there, he constructed the unit, which combines science, math and social studies.
"I'm going to do it again next year," he said, noting that he's planning to tweak it to include more math concepts.
"Scofield (Magnet Middle School ) actually saw what I did, and they were interested in implementing this in their curriculum," he said. "They do the math portion of it, using formulas to determine the percentage of clouds in the atmosphere at a given time, and I'd like to include that next year, while they're looking to include what I did in their math portion."
The cross-curricular focus ties in very well with the district's recent push toward creating a STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- metadiscipline, which offers students the opportunity to blend four formerly separate topics into one to deepen understanding.
"These students are contributing to science today," Crecelius said. "They're helping change the future of how science works, and they're tying into STEM education. It's really just great."