Educational game teaches severe weather preparedness

Date Posted: June 3, 2013

The “Young Meteorologist Program: Severe Weather Preparedness Adventure” is a single-player educational game created through a partnership with PLAN!TNOW, NOAA, the National Weather Service, and the American Meteorological Society to teach kids how to stay smarter than the weather during hurricanes, lightning storms, flash floods, tornadoes, and winter storms. NWS served as science advisor for the development of the game.

Players partner up with Owlie Skywarn, a “junior owl” enrolled in the Young Meteorologist Program, to progress across a digital game board, learning important severe weather concepts, survival and preparedness tips while playing a variety of mini-games, through five severe weather environments. This summer, players ages 8 to 12 partnered with college students from the University of Arkansas, Howard University, and other institutions in a service learning project focused on kids who want to learn how to be part of a Weather-Ready Nation during all types of severe weather.  

“Service learning is important to me because even though I am busy with school work, helping children learn and have fun at the same time is something I enjoy doing and I know with my future career plan to become a meteorologist helping the community become weather-ready can save lives,” said Christian Garcia, a junior at the University of Arkansas. 

Garcia is majoring in earth science, and will assist children through the program in cooperation with the Fayetteville Public Library and the Fayetteville Boys and Girls Club.  Along with the library and the Boys and Girls Club, Garcia is also receiving assistance from Lu Lui, a young professional and researcher working at Joint Global Change Research Institute in Maryland.

Lui holds bachelor and master of science degrees in environmental science and has research interests in climate change and water resources management. She worked previously as a volunteer with “Creating Critical Connections in Math and Science” in the summer of 2010, a partnership between Oklahoma middle school teachers and the colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Oklahoma increasing middle school teachers’ content knowledge in science/math. She met with Garcia in several sessions to help him understand how to communicate science to laymen, especially children.

“I believe everyone should be weather-ready given the increasing frequency of extreme weather events in recent years,” said Lui. “Children are especially vulnerable in severe weather so it is crucial to include weather preparation education in their early-years development. I’ve been really enjoying the collaboration with Christian and the team so far and I’m looking forward to the performances of our young participants in Fayetteville.”

Lolly Greenwood, director of youth and outreach services at the Fayetteville Public Library couldn’t agree more, and knows her facility will shine when it offers a PC station — one of their many — for the kids to work with Garcia on during the event days.

“Fayetteville Public Library is known as a destination library — for books, movies, clubs, and programs — or as a place to study,” said Greenwood. “This library is successful because of the library staff and the amazing job they do for the community. And service learning is an integral part of library service to the community.”  

The Young Meteorologist Program game is one example of a growing partnership between NWS and PLAN!T NOW. Although the game is focused for middle schools students, NWS and PLAN!T NOW are developing a new approach, known as “peer to peer” training, to reach very younger students in the K-3 range. 

“At NWS outreach events I have seen students playing the game, and become riveted to the screen wanting to complete the entire game in one session,” said Ron Gird, NWS outreach manager.  “In fact, I believe, this is a game for all ages, young and old alike — for example, grandparents teaching their grandchildren. Beyond the game, students will be asked to take the lessons they learn from the game and apply it in their communities, from creating public service projects to creating a larger network of young people across the country discussing preparedness.”

By carefully combining age-appropriate sections of the Young Meteorologist Program with an energetic presenter and the engaging format used throughout the activity, NWS and PLAN!T NOW hope that young students will become “hooked” on learning severe weather safety.