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Windward: Outsmart the Weather
11.10.05
Windward screen shot showing boat controls and a sunset out of the windows
Imagine a sailboat on a race around the world. What things come to mind?

Chances are that NASA was not one of your first answers. But there are several reasons it could be.

Image to left: Windward puts players at the controls of a sailboat racing around the world. Credit: Cable in the Classroom

Sailing involves knowing how to make the most of weather, wind and water conditions; since a sailboat's motion is determined by its relationship with those parts of the environment. And, while some people may associate NASA primarily with space, these are three things the agency knows a good bit about. A large part of NASA's mission focuses on Earth science, studying the environment of our home planet.

When Cable in the Classroom (CIC) was planning a new educational game, it wanted NASA involved in the project. With the agency's expertise in Earth science, NASA was able to make suggestions that led to the creation of a sailboat racing game that would be both fun and educational. The result is Windward, a free online game created by CIC in partnership with NASA, The Weather Channel and Discovery Education.

A screenshot showing sea surface temperature differences on a globe
Image to right: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio can animate a variety of weather and environmental conditions. Credit: NASA

This online simulation challenges players to an around-the-world sailing race, teaching them about weather in the process. As the game progresses, players are confronted by a variety of weather challenges, and are encouraged to search for relevant weather and sailing information that will help them choose a course that is both swift and safe. In so doing, they must read weather maps and analyze data on weather conditions, air and water currents and other variables.

Not only does the game encourage students to learn about weather, but the teacher and parent sections give ideas for using Windward as an educational tool at school and at home. While the game is targeted at middle-school students, older players can enjoy it as well.

Windward screen shot showing a map of the coast of Cape Town
Image to left: Students follow a path that takes them around the world -- including Africa, Australia and South America. Credit: Cable in the Classroom

Contributing to the game effort was the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio team. This SVS team creates and provides freely over the internet informative animated imagery of Earth processes, including those that influence and create weather. This type of modeling and visualization technology is a very important part of many science and mathematics domains. Experts use models to predict future events and visualizations to understand data, which are hard to accomplish without the use of technology. Modeling and visualization tools, such as NASA SVS, can support best practices of inquiry-based learning. When modeling and visualization tools are used for authentic, ill-structured investigations, such as the Windward simulation, learners can be engaged in making expert-like choices and decisions for their research.

With the fun approach of Windward, encouraging students to learn about weather can be a breeze.

Related Resources:
Windward: Outsmart the Weather in a Race Around the World
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NASA SVS
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David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services