Science students stare at clouds, get ahead

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Mimi Divjak, an earth and environmental science teacher at Robert F. Kennedy High School in Flushing, had an interesting plan for her students this week: take them outside and stare at the clouds.

But Divjak’s exercise is not about imagination. Instead, it focuses on getting her students involved in an international science project aimed at increasing students’ interests in the sciences.

Divjak explained that her class would go outside and note what type of clouds were in the sky as well as taking measurements of the percentage of cloud cover. She and her co-teacher, Deirdre O’Neill, soon hope to start using a small weather station to measure temperature and precipitation and post their results on the Internet.

“The kids are really enjoying it,” Divjak said. “They are learning more about their environment around them, what they see and what they experience everyday.”

RFK is one of 13 schools in the borough which have begun participating in the GLOBE program due to the recent efforts of Queens College. Four years ago, GLOBE officials reached out to schools to bring their program to the metropolitan area and Queens College eagerly responded.

Started in 1994, GLOBE is run by a collection of federal agencies, including NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation.

The goal of the program is to coordinate scientific study in schools throughout the world.

Students in GLOBE schools are asked to monitor several conditions in the area surrounding their institutions. For instance, the students measure the size of buds on trees as well as when buds bloom.

The program participants then put the information on GLOBE’s Web site.

With more than 12,000 schools in 98 countries participating in the program, a tremendous amount of information is made available.

Scientists access the data and use it to study issues such as climate change.

The students themselves then are assigned to draw their own conclusions from the data in their classroom work.

“It’s incredibly valuable not only to teacher and their students but to world-class scientists doing world-class experiments,” said Allan Ludman, the director of GLOBE at Queens College.

Classroom teachers must be trained how to conduct the experiments with their students, which is where Queens College stepped in.

Last year Queens College began instructing city teachers on how to bring the GLOBE program to their classrooms. Teachers must come to the school for five, 10-hour sessions. They, in turn, are given materials to bring back to their schools.

With little fanfare, 11 Queens schools began participating in GLOBE in 2001. This year the program has expanded to 26 middle and high schools in the city and Long Island, half of which are in the borough.

The growth was made possible by a larger grant from Con Edison, a gift of $25,000 this year.

“Con Edison is extremely committed to using Queens as a model to move this program throughout the five boroughs and Westchester County,” said Carol Conslato, director of Con Edison’s Queens Public Affairs office. “We view this as a partnership where we don’t just provide a check. We are very grassroots-oriented.”

Conslato and others said Con Edison would likely increase funding for the program in the upcoming years.

Ludman said he hoped the program would continue to grow dramatically over the next several years.

“Our goal is to offer GLOBE training to every kindergarten and 12th grade school in the New York metropolitan area, public, private and parochial.”

Queens College President Dr. James Muyskens expressed pride in its role in the program.

“It’s very exciting for us to be the training site,” Muyskens said “The potential for genuine learning and critical thought is unbounded.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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