Living near a large body of water, like Lake Michigan, can give you a huge appreciation for lake-effect snow. Between Saturday evening and Sunday morning we had nearly 2 feet of snow in much of Berrien County, Michigan, but if you drive just 20 miles away from the lake, most places only received 3 or 4 inches of the white stuff. Needless to say, my wife and I spent a good portion of our day (about 4 hours) shovelling out a path down our driveway until we could get the car out and over to Lowe’s to purchase a new snow-blower. While I was in the middle of clearing a particularly nasty snowdrift halfway down the drive I got to thinking about how many classrooms studying weather will often record and chart the daily weather conditions or amount of snowfall. “If only I had a ruler!” I thought as I heaved aside a shovel-load of packed snow. Then I’d be able to post my measurements online to compare with others around the nation.
Sadly, I never got that ruler, but while watching the evening news, I saw pictures that had been sent into the news station by others doing exactly what I had thought about. Several pictures of kids standing in the snow with yard sticks paraded across the screen, and it hit me. What if you could collect data like snowfall, rainfall, wind-speed, etc. and share it online with other classrooms?
Sure, I’ve had my students use Weather.com to track and record temperatures and snowfall, but there was something unique about the visuals of kids standing in the snow. It sort of made the whole day-long shovelling experience worth while as I could share the image I took above with a school in Vermont that we’re collaborating with online via a forum. There’s quite a popular topic about snow, or the lack thereof this winter, and I thought how great it would be to show them the excitement, relatively speaking, of our huge snowfall. I took that idea and snowballed it (pardon the pun), into another bigger idea. What if there was a website with an interactive map, sort of like Frappr! in which classrooms around the country, or world, could photograph themselves taking measurements and recordings, and then share them online for other classrooms to see. Collecting data, and recording numbers is one thing, but for students to be able to see just how high the snow is, rather than try to figure out how much 22 inches is in their heads, is a much better experience. You could place several similar objects in each location in the snow and compare how much of each is covered, or have each classroom attempt to explain why they’ve had several inches over several days, while another classroom only has a few inches in a week. A great starter for all kinds of research, but unfortunately I haven’t found a site, or have the skills, to create such a tool for sharing. Sure, there are interactive precipitation maps from NOAA, but at times like this I wish I had the “whizbang magic” to produce a website perfectly suited to my needs.