Precipitation project

Laramie Junior High School sixth-graders look on Wednesday morning as teacher Dan Bremer, left, and UW graduate student Nick Zelasko explain how the precipitation gauge, located near the main doors of the junior high school, operates.

SHANNON BRODERICK/Boomerang photographer

Students at Laramie Junior High School have a new hands-on way to study science with the addition of precipitation gauges and an electronic system capable of recording and transmitting real-time data.

Through a partnership with the University of Wyoming atmospheric science department, two gauges were installed on the LJHS campus — one near the front entrance of the school and one on the south side of the school grounds. Measurements from the gauges are transmitted directly to a computer built into a classroom at the school.

On Wednesday morning, LJHS science teachers Dan Bremer and Joel Kropf encouraged the students to think critically about how precipitation is measured and recorded, and several members of the UW atmospheric science department visited the school to talk to the students about the new technology.

“The whole idea was to get kids involved in understanding their world and what goes on in terms of meteorology, precipitation, weather — weather through time, which is climate, and if climate is changing,” atmospheric science professor Jeff Snider said. “And precipitation is a big element of that, and one that people don’t really understand very well, either. And I think the kids picked it up excellently.”

The new gauges were installed to replace gauges originally put in place when the school was built, which have since become obsolete — and home to more than a few birds’ nests, Snider said. The gauges utilize a weight system to measure precipitation regardless of whether it falls as rain or snow; the electronics record new data every minute, and the gauges register when the collection containers’ weight is greater than the previous recorded measurement.

Two pieces of information — a precipitation rate, measured in millimeters per hour, and a sample collector mass, measured in grams — are subsequently transmitted to the computer.

“That weight is really what’s important for everything — for agriculture, for weather, for how much water’s available to run into lakes and rivers,” Snider said.

Bremer, Kropf and Kim Burkhart, an instructional facilitator at the school, will be responsible for the gauges and could potentially add additional sensors and display capabilities in the future.

Burkhart said she thought the project tied in well with the water and earth science component of the sixth-graders’ curriculum.

“This day was planned as the celebration of the grant fulfillment, and this is the very beginning of this unit for our students,” she said. “And so we’re just tying in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and the careers and all of the graphing that they’ve learned all year.”

She said she hoped the students take a lot away from their future work with the gauges.

“You can have it right outside your school and still learn so much from the measurements that we get,” she said.

Funding, materials and support for the project came a variety of sources, including the John P. Ellbogen foundation, the UW College of Engineering and Applied Science, the Wyoming Water Development Commission and the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics, and former LJHS teacher Heath Brown, his family and students handled the installation.

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