Hurricanes In Your Classroom: Real NASA Data for Real Learning

Growing Up With Hurricanes

“Hurricanes” is an exciting STEM topic that brings real NASA data for real learning into your classroom. Hurricanes have fascinated me since I was a child. Growing up and living near the Gulf of Mexico, hurricanes were always a part of my life each summer. As a child, hurricanes were “fun”. We got to use candles when the lights went out, bar-b-que a lot and school was closed – exciting. I clearly remember when the eye of Hurricane Edith, 1971, passed directly over my home town. It was stormy for so long and then it suddenly cleared. hurricane katrinaAs a kid closed up in the house for so long, I ran outside to play in the sunshine thinking the hurricane was finally over. I remember seeing a 360 degree wall of clouds surrounding me and a beautiful clear blue sky directly above.  I was fascinated and stood there absorbing this unique sight that is forever burned into my memory. Then, my dad came outside and told me to get back in the house. I didn’t want to come back inside. But, I was glad I did. Shortly after I was back safely inside, the tempest renewed with vigor as the other side of the eye wall then moved over us. Now, as a father and homeowner, hurricane season is a major source of anxiety each year. Hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico and the northern Atlantic Ocean runs from June 1 to November 30. Though the heat of the season typically is from mid-August to late September.

Better Understanding and Forecasting Hurricanes

NASA will launch a next generation satellite, CYGNSS (Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System), this year to expand our understanding and prediction of hurricanes. The launch is targeted for no earlier than November 21, 2016. The CYGNSS mission will study the relationship between ocean surface properties, moist atmospheric thermodynamics, radiation and convective dynamics to determine how a tropical cyclone forms and whether or not it will strengthen, and if so by how much. This will advance forecasting and tracking methods.

NASA Wavelength

NASA offers several hurricane-related STEM curriculum resources that can enhance the learning experience of hurricanes in your classroom, using real NASA data for real learning. We will explore some of these resources here. Let’s begin with the resource, NASA Wavelength, your pathway into a digital collection of Earth and space science resources for educators of all levels. On the main page, you can search for resources by audience, topics, specific tags and even by education standards. For our topic of choice here, if you type “hurricanes” into the search engine and then choose “All Audiences”, it will generate twenty resources for your review. You can narrow the choices by selecting a specific audience.

NASA Wavelength

Building for Hurricanes

One specific resource, accessed from NASA Wavelength, I would like to showcase is the engineering design challenge, “Building for Hurricanes”. This resource is a short engineering design challenge to be completed by individual students or small teams. A real-world problem is presented, designing buildings for hurricane-prone areas, but in a simulated way that works in a classroom, after school club, or informal education setting. Students are given simple materials and design requirements, and must plan and build a tower as tall as possible that will hold up a tennis ball while resisting the force of wind from a fan. After the towers are built, the group comes together to test them using a fan and water. The resource provides a teacher guide, student data sheets and a powerpoint presentation lesson supplement.

My NASA Data

My NASA Data is another valuable resource for the classroom. My NASA Data (MND)’s tools allow anyone to access real NASA Earth science data. Through the use of My NASA Data “Live Access Server (LAS)” data viewer, you can create a variety of charts, plots, and graphs to explore the Earth system and answer research questions. My NASA Data is also ideal for the classroom, offering a large number of lesson plans, tools, and resources. We’re here to bring NASA’s Earth science mission into the hands of teachers, students, researchers and citizen scientists.

Hurricanes as Heat Engines

A My NASA Data resource that I want to showcase is “Hurricanes as Heat Engines” that examines authentic sea surface temperature data to explore how hurricanes extract heat energy from the ocean surface. In this activity students will practice finding data via the internet, practice making line plots and data maps and also understand how hurricanes gain energy from the ocean surface. The real NASA data is accessed with the My NASA DataLive Access Server (LAS)” that allows students to generate visualizations (color plots and graphs) of the data as requested, provide subsets of the specific parameters in a choice of file formats and present the numerical data collected.

NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

The NASA Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS) is a resource to utilize hurricane visualizations in your classroom. The Scientific Visualization Studio wants you to learn about NASA programs through visualization. The SVS works closely with scientists in the creation of visualizations, animations, and images in order to promote a greater understanding of Earth and Space Science research activities at NASA and within the academic research community supported by NASA. There is also a companion app for your iPhone or iPad (currently only available for iOS devices). The NASA Visualization Explorer app is the coolest way to get stories and visualizations about NASA’s exploration of the Earth, sun, moon, planets and universe delivered right to your iOS device.

Hurricanes: An Exciting STEM Topic

Hurricanes is an exciting STEM topic that can be used in your classroom to integrate real NASA data for real learning and help students better understand the Earth around them. Exploring hurricanes in your classroom addresses the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS); Earth and Human Activity – MS-ESS3, MS-ESS3-2, HS-ESS3, HS-ESS3-1, MS.Human Impacts and HS.Human Sustainability. We’ve only scratched the surface of hurricane resources here. There are many more. A few additional resources that are also useful are listed below. Hurricanes can create a “storm” of learning in your classroom.

NASA Hurricanes / Tropical Cyclones

NOAA Hurricane Education

Hurricane Hunters

Steve Culivan
Stennis Space Center