Global data

A web initiative means field data collected for school work becomes a valuable resource for geographers and scientists around the world. Chris Johnston explains how it works

When students know that field data they are asked to collect will not be used for anything more than their assignments, it is understandable that the motivation factor may not be too high. But would they be more interested in gathering information if they knew it would contribute to a global endeavour helping to boost scientific understanding of the environment?

Andy Tasker thinks the answer is yes. He is the UK co-ordinator of the GLOBE Programme, in which pupils from key stage 2 to 4 measure aspects of their local environment, report their findings on the internet and compare their results with those collected by their counterparts in more than 100 countries.

GLOBE has become one of the biggest international schools programmes since it was launched by NASA in the United States in 1994. It arrived in Britain four years ago and more than 300 UK schools are now participating. The initiative has three aims: to enhance environmental awareness; increase scientific understanding of the Earth; and provide opportunities for pupils to increase their achievements.

Activities focus on - weather, water, soils, land cover and biology and sustainable development - all linked to the national curriculum and helping develop not only geography but science, ICT and numeracy skills.

More than 15,000 records have been submitted by British students to the global total of seven million. Because data is collected in standard ways by students around the world, it is scientifically valid and comparable. "Not only is this extremely valuable to scientists, but it is what really brings the programme to life for children," says Andy Tasker, who is also chief executive of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and a former teacher and lecturer.

One GLOBE project, Clydewatch, involves about 300 pupils in the Glasgow area monitoring weather conditions in the 2,200-square mile catchment area of the river Clyde. Like students at any school participating in the initiative, they enter information on forms on the website, and it is then used to produce maps and graphs. As well as the data available on the website, weather station records and satellite images from NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration can be accessed.

The programme helps students learn to observe, make measurements, record data, develop theories and develop presentation skills, as well as become confident internet users, says Andy Tasker.

For schools to get involved with GLOBE, teachers must take a three-hour training session that offers an overview of the project and explains how to use the website. Teachers can sign up for training as individuals but Andy Tasker says it is better if two or three train, so that they can support each other.

Sessions are offered through local education authorities, but in a drive to increase from 800 the number of British teachers who have taken a session, six science and environment centres are now offering training. They are Doncaster's Earth Centre, the National Space Centre in Leicester, @Bristol, the Manchester Museum Discovery Centre, the Glasgow Science Centre and the Science Museum in London. The centres provide training and support to schools in a 50-mile radius. Sessions cost pound;50 per teacher.

For details contact Andy Tasker Tel: 02476 639 663 Email: admin@globe.org.ukThe British GLOBE website is at www.globe.org.uk and the US site is www.globe.gov

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