The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 5, 2010

CCHS meteorology class teaches more than the weather

Tucked away in a corner of the Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) is the studio for CCTV, the local cable access television station. Across half of one wall is a large green screen where once a week, meteorology students have “Green Screen Friday” where they make presentations that are taped for airing on the local access station. CCHS science teacher Jeff Yuhas formed a partnership with CCTV to give his students not only the book learning needed for the subject, but also the presentation skills needed for broadcast meteorology. Last month Yuhas and one of his students, Alex Coffin, spoke about the new media project at the American Meteorology Society Annual Meeting in Atlanta. Later, they gave a presentation to the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee (RSC) on January 27.

Three years ago Yuhas started a semester-long meteorology class at CCHS. With the help of Director of Technology Gene Warfel, Executive Director of CCTV Charlie Paige and funding from the Concord Education Fund, Yuhas set up a “green screen” in the CCTV studio using Chroma Key technology. Yuhas explained to the RSC that the meteorology class gives students a weekly experience researching, producing, and filming a weather-related feature as part of the regular curriculum, introducing students to broadcast meteorology.

Meteorology students come to the CCTV studio every Friday with their presentations on a laptop based on that week’s lessons and forecast. The students are filmed with the green screen behind them. Their presentation is shown on two screens on either side of where they are standing. The Chroma Key technology electronically replaces the green screen with their presentations, just as on the nightly news. The final product has the students speaking with their presentation as the background. The weekly sessions serve two purposes: the weekly material is reinforced and students continually develop their presentation skills.

During the first few weeks of the meteorology class, students do weather forecasts over the air at the CCHS radio station, WIQH 88.3. As students get more comfortable with the audio part of presenting the weather, they start learning the visual techniques in the CCTV studio. Students learn how to create their own Chroma Key backgrounds with digital still images, JPG files, Keynote and Powerpoint presentations and video clips. They also develop scripts to go along with their presentations and they are filmed in the studio.

Concord senior Alex Coffin explained to the RSC that the green screen presentations have helped her understand material they were learning in class. “For me, being forced to apply information and explain different concepts insured that I actually had a firm grasp of the material.”

The class watches recordings of their previous presentations which help them to see how to improve their next recording. Coffin continued, “But the benefits of green screen expanded far beyond just reinforcing class lessons. For me, it was enormously beneficial. It greatly improved my public speaking. I gained a lot of confidence” over the semester. Coffin said she also benefited from learning how to use a number of computer programs which she said she did not normally use. “We were required to create our own unique graphics for some of the presentations.”

Coffin said, “When surveyed, students said that the presentations they did for this class made up 60-80% of their total presentations in school. It showed the uniqueness of this class.” Yuhas said, “With the Earth Science and Meteorology classes, we really feel we have the technology covered as defined by the Massachusetts Department of Education frameworks. We really do a lot of English language arts, particularly the media strand. Students do research, get information from different sources and put together a multi-media presentation. He added, “CCTV invigorates the classes, and the meteorology class hits all the educational frameworks.” They have a real television studio experience.

The semester of studio work builds towards a final presentation, which includes explaining a concept learned during the semester and preparing a weather forecast for several days, complete with original maps and graphics. The Mosquito was invited to watch these presentations. Students either email their presentations to Yuhas or come in with their own laptops. Connecting various laptops to the CCTV set-up was not always seamless. Yuhas and Production Manager Matt Geiger patiently and quickly worked to fix the interconnection issues. Students showed poise and confidence in front of the camera. They were un-fazed as random people walked in a back door and moved around the room. Their presentations were unique and interesting; the best will air on CCTV.

CCHS Weather Services

Coffin, who took the class as a junior, is one of a group of students who started Concord-Carlisle Weather Services (CCWS), which produces radio, television, and internet content outside of class. (See Yuhas later explained that the group “is committed to providing forecasts five days a week for WIQH and three days a week for CCTV (someday we hope to do five days.) The group maintains a schedule that tries to get everyone either on the radio or on TV at least once a week. We also have students who focus on generating the graphics for CCTV and helping with the production at CCTV.”

Yuhas praised the staff at CCTV. They handle filming, which allows him to spend his time teaching the curriculum and coaching students on presentation techniques. There are only three staff members at CCTV. Geiger explained, “Last year we did over 2,000 hours of training. It is part of our mission, to have kids produce their own shows.” Paige reiterated the uniqueness of the collaboration between a high school science course and students forecasting the weather on a TV show.

Grants bring technology to CCHS

Specialized equipment used by the meteorology class has been supported by the Concord Education Fund. A $26,000 advanced multi-media production grant included a $10,000 robotic camera with weather-monitoring features, a $5,000 computer server which hosts CCWS, a $2,700 laptop used for video production, as well as other supporting hardware and software. The grant’s scope is wider than just meteorology: its primary goal is for the equipment to be available to the entire student body and faculty through the school library, for producing quality video for television broadcast, curriculum-related projects and/or classroom use. CCWS is perhaps the first, most-visible user of these systems. (Additional funding for the CCWS comes from Concord-Carlisle Adult Community Education.)

At the RSC meeting, Badalament told Yuhas, “You have done an amazing job. When we talk about 21st century skills, you’ve hit them all: seamless technology, interdisciplinary, project-based, authentic, obviously engaging, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and public presentation skills. Perhaps the most important aspect is that students are becoming adaptive learners. They are applying the knowledge they have to unpredictable situations.” “This is one of the best examples of how students master these skills,” said Superintendent Diana Rigby. “We are very excited about it.” ∆

© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito