Middle School Teacher Making a Difference with Vantage Pro2 WeatherSTEM Station
As we head into a future where understanding climate and weather will be at the forefront of daily life, the role of Citizen Scientists will be even more important. Gathering, understanding, and sharing data will be vital. Those who are teaching our future Citizen Scientists are a heroic part of the solution to problems our changing planet can create. We'd like to introduce you to one of those heroes!
Jeff Bouwman has a day job that is tough in the best of times, and REALLY tough in the pandemic present: he’s a middle school teacher. But not just any middle school teacher. Teaching at Shumate Middle School in Rockwood, Michigan, is just part of Jeff’s commitment to molding science minds. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Michigan Dearborn, where he teaches future science teachers; a NASA Citizen Scientist and Solar System Ambassador, and a robotics coach. This husband and father of three seems to have a source of personal energy most of us can only envy.
He's arranged for his budding scientists to have real-time, hyperlocal weather data at their fingertips with a Davis Vantage Pro2 weather station.
Jeff sees his students for exactly what they are: brilliant young scientists who are capable and eager to contribute to their community and world. Jeff teaches science, yes, but what he teaches is that science is the active, adventurous, daily exercise of one’s curiosity. His 6th, 7th and 8th graders at Shumate Middle School are soaking up what Jeff, AKA “King Snerd” (snerd = science + nerd) has to offer.
“I love what I do,” Jeff told us within the first 15 seconds of meeting him. "There is never enough time during a school day to squeeze in all of the awesome science I have to share."
When he moved from teaching elementary school to middle school six years ago, he realized that what these more mature science minds needed was access to data from their own environment. They needed a weather station! It didn’t take much research to land on the WeatherSTEM system, which is an educational weather program based on the gold standard of weather stations: Davis Vantage Pro2.
Jeff with the new Gibraltar School District WeatherSTEM station.
Jeff was able to secure a grant to set up the first WeatherSTEM system in Michigan right there at Shumate Middle School.
“Our Gibraltar School District WeatherSTEM station is a powerful team effort that combines teaching, community safety, citizen science, and the ability to share data ,” Jeff said. “Students, parents, the community, and teachers all use it. It’s probably the biggest thing I’ve done in education.”
He worked with Dr. Dixon Butler, a consultant with the GLOBE program, to get the station up and running.
“I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to set up,” he added. “And I don’t consider myself a technical expert. Our station is a community asset, too. It’s mounted, with its great WeatherSTEM custom paint, over the cafeteria, where everyone can see it. Parents use the data to know how to dress their kids.”
Jeff’s students can now focus on the fascinating and unique environment in which they live.
“We are adjacent to Lake Erie, so we see the Lake Effect, when cold air moves across the lake from Canada. We are surrounded by wetlands; our school is in a flood zone. So our system also includes a Davis Soil Moisture/Temperature station. My students watch soil moisture in the spring as the snow melts and the rain soaks in. They report soil moisture data to NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission to help calibrate NASA's SMAP satellite map.”
Jeff wants his students to understand the importance of weather and microclimates. He lives on Grosse Ile, an island in the Detroit River, about 10 miles from the school. He installed a Vantage Vue at home so his students can see how weather conditions there compare to conditions at school.
“Recently, we had a day where we had a lot of snow. My students looked at the weather station data from the school and from my weather station on Grosse Ile, checked out the cameras at the high school and elementary school. We wondered about the Lake Effect, so I got out my phone and we Zoom-called my mom in Grand Rapids to ask if it was snowing there. She took her phone outside to let the kids do some remote weather observations of conditions there.”
Every year, Jeff tries to expand the system and is good at finding grant monies to make the system even better.
“I didn’t want us to just buy it and sit on it. The first year we bought a second Cloud camera and mounted it at the high school. Then we added a camera at Parsons Elementary. Now my students can compare what they see at each location. The camera at the elementary school looks at the flagpole, which gives kids a good way to see what the wind is doing.”
Then he added a Davis WeatherLink Live to get real time updates. This fall, they installed a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) station at the high school stadium.
“It gets really hot in Michigan in the late summer,” Jeff explained, “and the WBGT station is crucial for ensuring the safety of our athletes – football, soccer, track.”
In addition to teaching science, Jeff also leads a Remote Sensing class
“This class asks, how do we measure Earth from a distance? In this class we study NASA satellites, and we create our own remote sensing systems. First, we learn how to fly a kite – so many kids have never learned how to fly a kite! – then we send up hand-held wind meters and Go-Pro cameras on the kites. The students then have time-stamped data and images from high above our land stations to analyze. The kids love seeing things like Lake Erie from a kite-eye view, and they can SEE the wind shifts. We study other remote sensing systems, like the Mars Perseverance Rover. We build supersonic decelerators (parachutes!) and code a little Mars Rover. Science education is tech education! I teach them how to use tech to make communication better.”
Teaching in today’s world is not easy. Teachers like Jeff have endured extra burdens these last few years: teaching remotely or masked or with students behind plastic shields. They have taught through changing mandates, through rough personal days, through uncertainty and anxiety—their students’ and their own.
“I think when you teach,” Jeff said, “it’s important to understand that you can’t go it alone. The support of administration and other faculty members is so important. And partnerships matter – like our partnerships with WeatherSTEM, GLOBE, and Davis which have given us the best of the best for our students.”
Jeff was named Teacher of the Year in 2019.
Jeff sums up what really motivates him this way: “For all my students, whether they are sixth-graders or future teachers, I want them to be the BEST. I want them to be difference makers.”
Well, we are proud to know one important difference maker ourselves. His name is Jeff Bouwman.