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Nolan Mirikitani, a fourth-grader at Gilbert W. McNeal, has a passion for astronomy and studying what's happening in the sky. He hopes to visit the weather station soon.
East County Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 4 years ago

MTC charts local weather using weatherSTEM

Manatee Technical College can now track weather in real time.
by: Amanda Sebastiano Staff Writer

Since he was "a child," 10-year-old Nolan Mirikitani has had an obsession with the sky.

When he travels with his parents to Missouri each summer, the fourth-grader uses a telescope at their vacation home. He said the home is located on a hillside, surrounded by farms and there's little light interference at night.

"Nine or 10 p.m. is the best time to see the stars," Mirikitani said. "It's interesting to think about how space is endless. The sky seems endless, too. I like to think about what's happening up there."

His interest in astronomy expanded to a curiosity about the weather, and he enjoys learning about weather events, such as hurricanes and tornados.

Now, the Gilbert W. McNeal Elementary student has a local resource to fuel his interest in the weather. Oct. 7, Manatee Technical College's main campus on State Road 70 launched a WeatherSTEM station and website.

The station is just a few feet tall and is propped on the northeast corner of the school's campus, on the rooftop of the main building.

The device takes real time video of the weather happenings at the school from a 60-degree lens. It also collects rain water, monitors wind speed and gathers area data, which is then transmitted to the website that accompanies the station —

The website is open to the public and free to use. There's also an application available for Apple and Android cell phones, which delivers information from the website.

On the website, users can view the current temperature, heat index, barometer readings, the closest lightning strike and a 10-day forecast of the weather for the area in which the station is installed.

"We're trying to make weather, and learning about it, more fun," weatherSTEM CEO Ed Mansouri said.

Each day, the website also shows a sky movie, which compiles video of the sky at different times during the previous day.

There's also a special section for astronomy-lovers, such as Mirikitani. 

Users can view information about the moon, sunrise and sunset times, and altitude and distance of the other planets in the solar system.

A meteorologist who has wanted to be a weatherman since he was 6 years old, Mansouri created WeatherSTEM primarily as an educational tool for teachers and students.

Mansouri hopes local teachers will take field trips to visit the station, and will utilize the range of lesson plans available on the website.

"I noticed high school kids can pick science classes, but there aren't any weather classes offered to them," Mansouri said. "Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and other states have formal atmosphere science courses. Florida has a vulnerable coast line, and students should be more acclimated with weather and climate. This is important."

Although East County high schools don't offer science classes specific to weather, elementary, middle and high schools do cover topics related to weather.

Fourth-grade students at McNeal Elementary learn about weather for more than nine weeks in Mindy Swartling's class. Swartling is exploring the new website and hopes to take her students to visit the station in conjunction with her lessons on the water cycle.

Manatee Technical College Oct. 7 installed a weather station on its roof.
Manatee Technical College Oct. 7 installed a weather station on its roof.

"I think our schools out east do a good job of covering topics that include the weather," Swartling said. "I'd love to utilize this website, though, and expand on what I'm already doing."

Kathy Kimes, science lab coordinator who teaches Life and Earth sciences instructor for third- through fifth-graders at McNeal, is always looking for new activities to intrigue her 400 students while also complying with state standards.

WeatherSTEM's lesson plans lay out which standards are met at the beginning of each presentation.

Each year, Kimes teaches her students about weather cycles and climate. After reviewing the website, she is brainstorming ideas for additional units, such as the moon and solar energy.

"I want my students to be prepared for testing," Kimes said. "But I know FCAT tested on weather. So, these are things students need to know about. Knowing about and understanding weather can be lifesaving. People decide where to live, work and retire based on the weather. And, when a big storm is coming, it's important to know where it's going."

Interactive lessons, such as the photos and video that accompany the unit on Hurricane Katrina, will keep students more engaged than just learning from textbooks, Kimes added.

"I love finding hands-on activities for my students," Kimes said. "For the unit on Katrina, I can have them chart the hurricane's path. When they watch the videos and see the photos of the storm and what happened after, it keeps them interested."

Bullet points and short explanations on each page of lessons is also an approach that will keep students interested, she said.

When Kimes takes her students out to the garden on campus to plant edible flowers later this semester, she plans to review weatherSTEM's information on soil temperatures.

The soil temperature readings are gathered from a device buried in soil at MTC's campus. 

Mansouri and his team also installed a device to monitor the pond's temperature and other data. It's located in front of Braden River High School.

MTC's weather station is the first in Manatee County and the 60th one Mansouri has created and donated since he started the project two years ago. He estimates the donation to cost about $5,000 for parts, construction and travel.

He uses money saved in his retirement fund to finance the projects. His company, UCompass, designs technology and other tools for schools to use to better educate students.

"I just want teachers to try this tool to see if it's useful" Mansouri said. "What teacher isn't already using the web in some form? These students are also learning about data mining and how to understand scientific information."

Denise Touchberry, who teaches an engineering lab for kindergarten through fifth-graders at McNeal, believes the weather tool will also help solve a bigger picture issue of fostering more creativity in the classroom and within students.

"You have to start teaching STEM at early age when students are so good at being creative," Touchberry said. "Then, by the time they're in fifth grade, they have all kind of ideas, because they've practiced being creative since kindergarten. We're creating a whole generation of tinkers and designers. We've fallen away from that a little bit. For a while, everyone wanted to be a business person. But we also need those who like to design and create. WeatherSTEM is an avenue for that."

Contact Amanda Sebastiano at [email protected].

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