March 14, 2011


Sixth-graders at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School have their heads in
 the clouds — and their teacher couldn’t be happier. 
Emily Sharretts, a sixth-grader at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School, charts updated weather
 statistics using the classroom’s newest addition, a weather station.
Union Leader Correspondent
Justice Murphy, Ben Vachon and Bishoy Abdelmalek
 show off their weather journals, which help keep
 them in the loop of looming weather patterns.
DERRY -- Tracking weather patterns just got a whole lot more engaging for Fran Leach’s students, thanks to a Davis Vantage Pro 2 wireless weather station donated to the class by a fellow weather watcher.
Philip Reeder, president of MicroDAQ. com Ltd. in Contoocook, stumbled upon the request for a weather station posted by Leach on an online charity site for educators, Donors Choose.
It provides a way for budget-conscious teachers in need of supplies or equipment to post requests — like the second-grade Bedford teacher currently seeking crayons and paint supplies, or the Manchester teacher whose kindergartners are using old, mismatched chairs that have caused more than a few injuries.
For Leach, a sixth-grade science teacher at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School, earning classroom equipment this way feels like winning on a game show.
“I just like to get the most for my money, and if Donors Choose can provide the items, then I get more money to spend on other things,” said Leach.

In this case, she had requested a Davis weather station that was about half the price of the one donated by Reeder, whose company distributes the weather stations. He said he keeps an eye on the site for North Country schools in need, but this particular request was right up his alley. 
“The site is a great idea, and the creative teachers search this kind of stuff out. In return, I actually received hand-written thank-you cards from the students,” Reeder said. 
Leach has also “won” six hand-held Lab Quest data collection tools, which helps her students with hands-on learning, something Leach believes is essential to her classroom process. 
“We’ll be using the Lab Quest readers for chemical and moisture testing of soil samples when we start that unit,” Leach said. 
Most donations come anonymously, although Leach has received certain items thanks to the kindness of a former Hood student now studying science at MIT who “just wanted to help inspire her students”; and Cellular One, which covered the cost of safety glasses. Disney will even subsidize half of the cost of certain requests from time to time. 
Leach knows that going the extra mile for things like software, electronics or even art supplies not only heightens interest in science but inspires her students. These kids are born of the 21st century, and technology has always been part of their lives. Expecting them to gain as much from a 20th-century science book, or filling in blanks on worksheets, is naive. 
“I can’t imagine a classroom without the technology — there’s so much more they can do and learn,” Leach said. 
Bishoy Abdelmalek and Ben Vachon have become so enthusiastic about learning in Leach’s class that they have taken to eating lunch in her classroom so they can build a solar car. 
“Mrs. Leach told us about how kids at other schools had done it, so we’re doing it, too. 
We start actually building it next week, and we are going to race the car on Earth Day,” said Bishoy. 
The weather station has helped students to understand more about what goes into the daily weather, said Leach. 
And because the first student to arrive in class gets to read and chart the current weather station readings, it has actually prompted many students to get to class as quickly as possible, said Justice Murphy. 
“Last year no one cared about weather. Now we know a lot more about things like why rain comes from clouds,” said Justice, who goes into a brief explanation about evaporation, condensation and precipitation. Madison Stee recognizes that weather actually changed her life. 
“Because it changes my schedule — like the time we had the ice storm, and we had no power for two weeks, or when school gets canceled,” said Madison, who is plowing through a worksheet Leach prepared that allows her students to track the course of historic hurricanes Hugo, Katrina, Andrew and Floyd. 
“I used to just have them track Hugo, but now we can actually use this interactive Internet site to move the high and low pressure systems around, and see how that changes the outcome, or why a hurricane moves the way it does based on those variables,” said Leach. 
For the next part of that lesson, she will use a free online National Weather Service simulator called “Aim a Hurricane” on her iMac laptop which she will connect to an electronic white board — one of two in use at Hood, earned through a state grant Leach applied for. 
Not all students are ready to reciprocate by turning in hightech projects. Leach points to several examples received for a recent cloud project. Some are cut from paper and stuffed with cotton balls. Others are built from wood and craft supplies, or cardboard cutouts dangling from wire hangers. A majority are traditional poster board projects with magic marker images. 
One gave her goosebumps. 
“I give them freedom with projects, because students have different ways of learning. This student found a free tool online to create this PowerPoint,” said Leach, popping a disk into her computer. 
“I checked it out, because it was new to me. I discovered that she had to put it all together using a template, and she had to select her own music. The thing is, she is not among my top students. But using this technology, she produced something that was outstanding. I can tell she really put a lot of effort into it. 
And in the end, she connects the water cycle to life on earth — she went beyond the clouds, and grasped the real significance of this aspect of science. That’s what gives me goosebumps,” Leach said. 
“These tools really make the learning process engaging for the kids. I find it to be a very rich experience, when we an talk about what they’ve learned. 
I want to know what they’ve witnessed, and what they know from the information they’ve gathered,” Leach said. “They came in here not liking science, and now they do. What more could a teacher ask for?” 

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