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When Bad Things Happen to Good Students

Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The elementary school student questioning if El Niño occurs anywhere besides the Pacific Ocean. The researcher investigating connections between Arctic ozone depletion and global climate change. The citizen scientist interested in how changing land cover and use affects animal migration patterns. And the businessperson projecting future needs for harvest, delivery and storage of crops. All of these people are Earth Explorers -- they are all connected by their curiosity about Earth system processes. This series will introduce you to NASA Earth Explorers, young and old, with a variety of backgrounds and interests.

Students studying their GLOBE cloud charts
Spring was finally in the air and flowers were blooming. All winter long, a group of fifth-graders at Kittrell Elementary in Waterloo, Iowa, had carefully monitored the weather in an effort to study how temperature and clouds affect bursting tree buds.

Image to right: Kittrell students study their GLOBE cloud charts. Credit: NASA

But anticipation quickly turned to dismay one Monday in April when the students arrived at school to find their outdoor weather box had been bashed and new digital thermometer stolen -- not exactly their idea of a friendly April Fools' prank.

Outraged, three of the students promptly banded together and took action.

"We can't believe someone would be so mean to break the box and steal something that they probably don't even know how to use or want," they wrote in a letter to the local newspaper. "We are trying to raise money to purchase another thermometer so our project can continue. If you want to help us get another thermometer we would be very thankful."

The letter was published, and the response was greater than the students had imagined possible. Within days, the school received two new weather boxes, courtesy of a man who had built similar boxes for other schools, and enough money to buy a new thermometer. The biggest surprise of all was a visit from local TV weather forecaster Mark Schnackenberg, who presented the school with a $200 check.

"We didn't want to have them stop what they were doing because the money was not there to buy new instruments," Schnackenberg said. "Textbook activities and materials are a great way to begin to learn about science, but to actually use real-time data... I think using real-time data is more important."

The program through which students at Kittrell track weather conditions and study the environment is called GLOBE. Sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation, GLOBE involves K-12 students around the world in collecting data on the land, air, water, plants and animals. Students report their observations to the program's Web site, where scientists and other students can access the data for use in their research.

Kittrell also participates in GLOBE ONE, a field campaign in Iowa's Black Hawk County that brings students and scientists together to study local and regional environmental issues.

Carol Boyce
Teacher Carol Boyce has coordinated GLOBE at Kittrell since the school first became involved with the program in 1996. She credits the program's hands-on and inquiry-based approach with breeding enthusiasm for science among her students.

Image to left: Carol Boyce is in charge of the GLOBE program at Kittrell. Credit: NASA

"Students are involved in meaningful scientific collection of data," Boyce said. "The opportunity to meet the scientists and to be a part of their research has been a great motivator for these students."

Over the years, Boyce's students have used the data they've collected to analyze temperature variations and long-term weather patterns. Last year, they conducted two biodiversity studies of the school grounds, one in the spring and one in the fall, noting changes in bird and insect populations and how these changes correlated with temperature.

But, Boyce says, GLOBE allows her to emphasize more than just data collection and other mechanical aspects of science. She hosts weekly lunch meetings in her classroom where students discuss not only how to do science, but also how to be a scientist.

"I want them to learn to ask questions, look for connections, develop theories about why things happen, and to be a learner through observation and participation," Boyce said.

This year, the students at Kittrell learned as much about life -- the good and the bad -- as they did about being a scientist. Like most of her classmates, 11-year-old Shelby was sad that anyone would purposely damage and steal their weather equipment, but glad to see something positive - the community's response -- come from such an awful experience.

"I think something good happened because I learned that there are many people that will help others," Shelby said.

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Adapted Letter to Newspaper:

Thieves Break Youths' Hearts
We are fifth-grade students. We have a teacher, Mrs. Carol Boyce, who coordinates a science program at our school called GLOBE. GLOBE is a nationwide program used in the schools and community that charts scientific measurements such as temperature along with many other readings that are recorded for scientific data and research.

Our school has an outdoor weather box that is made of wood, and it contains an expensive thermometer that records temperatures throughout the day. We have different students who record the temperatures daily, and we track this information for further use.

Someone recently broke into the box, broke the box and stole the thermometer. This has happened before, but we did not lose such an expensive thermometer. Our teacher does not have any money to replace the thermometer, and we are very sad because this project provided a lot of data for future scientific use besides being a very important part of our program. We are trying to raise money to purchase another thermometer so our project can continue. If you want to help us get another thermometer we would be very thankful.

We can't believe someone would be so mean to break the box and steal something that they probably don't even know how to use or want.

If anyone has any information on who may have done this or know where the thermometer is, please contact any of us.

Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies