Teaching the teachers: Texas educators shadow meteorologists to help their students take on weather preparedness

July 17, 2019

On a hot day in June, four Texas teachers arrived at Midland’s National Weather Service Forecast Office (WFO), ready to be students for the next three days. These educators — representing a K-10 charter school called the University of Texas Permian Basin STEM Academy — were preparing to carry out a promising new STEM curriculum centered around a three-week-long project. In search of ways to better guide students through their projects, they had come to the National Weather Service to see meteorology in action.

During a workshop, electronics systems analyst Charles Yaws and electronics technicians Kris Harrison and Danny Reed at the Weather Forecast Office in Midland, Texas, show teachers around a local automated surface observing station.

Texas Teacher Externships (TEX2), a grant-funded program out of the University of Texas in Austin, was designed to prepare teachers to guide their students through a three-week project. This in-depth, interdisciplinary project would require students to assume the roles of STEM professionals, and their teachers needed to get ready to guide them along the way. In just a few days, teachers from the academy learned about every aspect of WFO operations to help with the meteorology component of the students’ projects. WFO Midland staff and the teachers discussed the mission of the National Weather Service with particular emphasis on the types of interdisciplinary questions that the students would address. These topics included severe weather operations, local fire weather, and the social science of weather safety and preparedness.

After three days, the teachers were informed and energized to put their newfound knowledge to work. “I had no idea what all your job entails," said Alisha Pierce, one of the TEX2 teachers. Fellow TEX2 educator Crystal Mineo added, “We had a blast with you guys and learned great information to bring back to our students." 

The TEX2 teachers decided to develop projects for their students that centered on the question, "What could you do to help your community prepare for a natural disaster?" Students would study natural disasters, including tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. Working in groups of four, they would take on the roles of historian, meteorologist, geographer, and sociologist to investigate their particular hazard. Students would interview a natural disaster survivor, and finally, develop safety preparedness brochures for their community. 

Amber Hluchan, meteorologist at WFO Midland, was enthusiastic about their approach. "I was such a weather nerd in high school, still am! I would have loved to do a project like this,” she said. Hluchan could see the value of this project and its connection to her own work. “From a NWS employee perspective, I have such a passion for our mission to save lives, and a big part of that is to educate about weather threats and safety,” she explained. “I think it's really great that these teachers took this very important role that we play and incorporated it in the project by having the students create a safety preparedness brochure."

With the assistance of WFO Midland staff, the teachers left their externship prepared to bring meteorology into the curriculum. This effort will continue on an annual basis, maintaining the connection between teachers, students, and weather forecasters.

This story was originally published in the Fiscal Year 2018 NOAA Education Accomplishments Report.