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Aquarium Launches New NOAA Distance Learning Programs

11/17/2010 2:03:16 PM

Fourth grade students interact with an NWS meteorologist via the Internet.

Above image: Meteorologist David Hotz interacts with fourth-grade students at the Tennessee Aquarium via the Internet from the National Weather Service office in Morristown, TN.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                    Contact: Thom Benson 423-785-3007

Aquarium Adds “The Wild Side of Weather” to Distance Learning Programs
Education Outreach First for NOAA & National Weather Service

Chattanooga, Tenn. (November 17, 2010) -  More than 1,500 miles separate the streams of the Appalachian Mountains from the Gulf of Mexico, but new distance learning programs at the Tennessee Aquarium are helping students understand their connection to the ninth-largest body of water in the world.
Thanks to funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, students will gain new insights into how the world’s oceans shape weather and climate for inland residents. “Some of Chattanooga’s most significant weather events began as storms that developed over the Gulf,” said George Mathews, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service Office in Morristown, Tennessee. “The ’93 Superstorm that dumped nearly two feet of snow on Chattanooga, Hurricane Opal and the recent tornado that struck the Chickamauga Dam are memorable examples.”

New electronic whiteboard technology installed at the Tennessee Aquarium will allow visiting school groups to interact with National Weather Service meteorologists. This is the first time that the National Weather Service has offered live, educational outreach programs via the Internet. “We try to be good stewards of our environment, but we cannot do it alone,” said Bill Proenza, regional director of the National Weather Service Southern Region. “What we can do is work to educate and encourage the public to understand and play a greater role in preserving the Earth’s resources for future generations. That is why NOAA’s Office of Education began to seek out projects designed to increase public awareness, literacy and a greater sense of responsibility for our oceans and climate.” 

Each lesson is designed to meet state and national science standards, as well as NOAA’s Ocean Literacy Standards. “Students travel from the mountains to the sea while they are touring the Aquarium buildings, discovering our connections to animals and habitats along the way,” said Tim Baker, the Aquarium’s education director. “But this new partnership with the National Weather Service helps us bring these connections full circle. Our oceans produce most of the air we breathe and weather we experience.”

According to NOAA, ocean and aquatic sciences are among the most underrepresented disciplines in K-12 educational curricula. This comes at a time when a fundamental understanding of the world’s oceans is critical.

Fourth-grade students from Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy were the first class to participate in “The Wild Side of Weather” at the Aquarium. These tech-savy students seemed eager to learn from the Weather Service meteorologist who was being “beamed into” Chattanooga from Morristown. “We have found that many students are initially excited by the technology,” said Baker. “Our distance learning programs that focus on animals and habitats are very well-received across the country. And educators tell us their students absorb and retain information when it’s brought into the classroom over the Internet.”

Aquarium educators are looking forward to adding these new programs to their menu of “Lunch and Learn” lessons which are offered free for school groups visiting the Tennessee Aquarium, IMAX 3D Theater or River Gorge Explorer. Lunch and learn programs combine lunch time with an engaging learning experience.

Weather experts like Proenza hope these new education programs spark more opportunities to reach inland communities. “Even though communities are geographically removed from the saltwater world, the oceans and humans are inextricably interconnected,” said Proenza. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to understand how we can work together to preserve and protect our natural resources.”


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