September 1, 2015 – Today NOAA released a free, downloadable flat screen version of its popular Science On a Sphere® (SOS), SOS ExplorerTM. This new way to display the dynamics of Earth’s weather and climate, plate tectonics and more will help teachers bring these stunning science visualizations, usually found at museums and science centers, into the classroom, where students can learn by exploring.
“Bringing SOS Explorer into the classroom and having it as a visual tool is a huge help because students can see numbers and it doesn’t make much sense,” said Jayme Margolin-Sneider, a middle school science teacher at Westview Middle School in Longmont, Colorado. “But when we show it to them in an animation or a simulation, the lightbulb goes on.”
SOS Explorer uses off-the shelf video gaming technology. “The gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. It surpassed Hollywood in terms of revenue and it’s really using cutting-edge technology,” said Eric Hackathorn, lead SOS Explorer developer at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) Global Systems Division in Boulder, Colorado. “By leveraging that technology we can create very effective visualizations.”
SOS Explorer includes a select group of datasets from the SOS catalog, which display animated information about the Earth’s land, oceans, and atmosphere collected by satellites, ground observations, and computer models. Tools included in the application allow users to zoom into, probe, and graph the data. Users can also add additional information including websites, videos, and pictures. To make the product more user-friendly, the SOS Explorer team created three scripted storylines or tours through the datasets guided by learning goals. Supplementary materials are available for each of the tours to help teachers incorporate SOS Explorer into the classroom.
Future versions of SOS Explorer will include the entire SOS® library—hundreds of visualizations of earthquakes, hurricanes, climate change and much more. Users will even be able to add their own content and write their own tours. The current version of SOS Explorer is available free of charge to everyone.
Last month, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder sponsored a workshop for local elementary and middle school teachers, who downloaded and installed SOS ExplorerTM on their own computers to investigate collaboratively how they could use it in their classrooms. They also created and shared lesson plans using SOS Explorer.
“We will allow the kids to discover the relationship between plate tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanoes,” said Chris Newby, a fifth grade teacher at Heatherwood Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado. “They’ll get a chance to look at three separate models, and draw their own conclusions as they move from station to station. It is that kind of science discovery that leads to real learning.”
The workshop was led by Hilary Peddicord, Science on a Sphere (SOS®) Education Specialist at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory’s Global Systems Division and CIRES. “Data visualization is one of the easiest ways to bring big data into the classroom and make it accessible and understandable,” said Peddicord.
“They love it. They can see Earth as it really is, and it sticks with them,” said Kimberly Leroi, a second grade teacher at Lone Tree Elementary School in Lone Tree, Colorado. “I just think it is going to add a whole other dimension to their learning.”
SOS® and SOS Explorer support an engaged and educated public with an improved capacity to make scientifically informed decisions, part of NOAA’s engagement enterprise.