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There may be grey skies....

Chris Drage looks at systems that help children record, analyse and share information about a British obsession

One subject that's sure to stimulate conversation is the weather. It's not surprising then, that weather is firmly implanted in the national curriculum geography Orders and is relevant to other subjects such as science, English, maths and information technology.

It begins at key stage 1 where the effect of weather on people and their surroundings is studied. Key stage 2 takes in weather variations, the influence of site conditions, seasonal patterns and conditions in different parts of the world. And key stage 3 includes recording local weather, using automatic stations and communications technology to access additional sources and handle, present and analyse the resulting information via spreadsheets, CD-Roms and the World Wide Web.

There is a range of suitable software from early infants to undergraduate level. In addition, the Internet offers vast potential in terms of resources and data. There is an anonymous reservoir of information on the WWW. One of the best sites to start is the BBC Children's Weather Pages. The Beeb has weather articles, plus a five-part course on how to build your own weather station. Information such as temperature conversion charts, a weather course and "Did You Know?" and "Weather Lore" sections add breadth.

The Meteorological Office site provides the current daily weather forecast, and information about how weather data is captured and disseminated. It provides access to a large number of global WWW weather centres. Similarly, the Advisory Unit site offers superb geography pages which feature weather strongly. Many additional sites are available through its pages, including the increasing number of schools recording their own weather data and publishing it on their WWW pages.

But why is this better than using daily reports from newspapers, TV and radio? Because local weather conditions vary considerably and if you want your pupils to use real data, collected locally, then schools in Essex, Somerset and Norfolk can, using WWW browser software, log into the pages of Felsted School, Wells Cathedral School and Great Yarmouth High School respectively.

Each of these sites publish their own monthly weather data collected using the Weather Reporter (from the Advisory Unit). The data is in the form of CSV (comma separated values) files, which means it can be downloaded directly and imported into almost any spreadsheet. Just think how it must impress the Office for Standards in Education. After all, they're continually complaining that not enough environmental sensing and monitoring is going on.

Automatic weather monitoring is mentioned only in the key stage 3 orders, but that doesn't mean it can't be attempted by younger children. All it needs is an enterprising staff member and a supportive Parent Teacher Association. Whether you are going to publish your results or not, a Weather Reporter system is extremely useful.

After erecting and using this excellent bit of kit myself, I can tell you, don't skimp. Go the whole way and budget Pounds 500 on the complete system. The Weather Reporter automatic data-logging station continuously records wind speed, wind direction, temperature, hours of sunshine and daylight, rainfall, pressure and humidity.

The system is easy to install, use and maintain. Attach the mast to your school roof, connect the cables, plug in the power supply, and you're ready to go.

The software is easy to use with some excellent features in the new Windows version, which the currently updated Acorn software will soon also have. To publish your data you need to subscribe to a system like Research Machines' Internet for Learning, where you can develop and display your own home pages. Real data handling, real IT involvement - really impressive to inspectors and parents. What more can be said?

Useful WWW starting points: * BBC Weather Centre:http:www.bbcnc.org.ukweather * Met Office:http:www.meto.govt.uksec6sec6.html * Wells Cathedral School, Somerset:http:www.rmplc.co.ukeduwebsiteswellcsindex.html * Great Yarmouth High School:http:www.rmplc.co.ukeduwebsitesgyhsmithweather.html * Felsted School, Essex:http:www.rmplc.co.ukeduwebsitesfelstedindex.html * Weather Reporter, Pounds 395-Pounds 530, from Advisory Unit: Computers in Education, tel: 01707 266714

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