By Kerry McClay, May 21st 2018
This winter SnowSchool has introduced tens of thousands of diverse kids to the wonders of winter and the joys of snowshoeing in communities across the country! And while SnowSchool has always been about harnessing the power of snow to connect kids with nature, one potential problem with school field trips can be a lack of connection to further learning. While an outdoor experience might generate lots of enthusiasm among students, if there is little or no connection back to the classroom the result can be a weak “one-and-done” experiential program that misses an enormous opportunity to spark further science exploration. In 2015 WWA and the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station launched a new weather station project and accompanying science curriculum to help solve this problem by providing teachers with a uniquely powerful and easy to use classroom resource. The result created a fun 4-month learning experience (now know as the Snowpack Prediction Contest) and in the seasons since the initial pilot WWA has expanded the weather station project to a dozen of communities and thousands of SnowSchool students across the country!
The concept is simple: Following their snowshoe outing, the students are challenged to make a prediction about the amount of snow their local mountains will receive during the coming winter, with prizes given out for the most accurate predictions. Using decades of historical snowpack data provided in collaboration with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s SNOTEL weather stations, students calculate averages and analyze recent precipitation trends to make informed predictions. Specifically, SnowSchool asks students “what do you think the maximum snowpack depth measurement and the maximum snow water equivalency measurement will be over the course of the winter?” This activity generally simulates the approach snow hydrologists take when making snowpack and streamflow forecasts. Once predictions are submitted in January/February the students and teachers track winter storms, snow accumulation and melting well into April and May. The result is a 3-4 month learning experience and science project that kids love! The project concludes with classroom presentations that examine what happened, what snowpack levels (drought vs abundance) mean for the students local community and the impact of climate change on mountain snow. Extending students’ learning experience and connecting it back to the classroom in this manner ensures that SnowSchool makes good on its aspiration to foster ecological literacy among our youngest generation.
Below are some snapshots from the 2018 Snowpack Prediction Contest: