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Thinking Globally: Enhancing Learning With NOAA Earth System Data Visualization Tools—sos, Sosx, NOAA View


A small group of scientists and museum directors sit in a room and ponder, “What do we do with this thing?” It was ten years ago, and Science On a Sphere (SOS) was a nascent educational technology. Since that time, SOS, a six foot animated globe, has been installed in 146 sites in 26 countries around the world and 29 US states. It is estimated that 37 million people see SOS every year. This didn’t just happen by luck. NOAA has built a energetic community of practice, with over 150 institutional network members ranging from museums and aquariums, to scientific laboratories, and even documentary producers. A key to the long term success of this educational technology and the community behind it has been its constant evolution - driven by needs assessments of the network partners, NOAA’s foresight on how to improve user experiences by integrating new visualizations, storytelling, and improved technology, and the ability of institutions to integrate the technologies into their other STEM offerings. Increasing scientific and data literacy is a driving mission for Earth science educators and STEM proponents within K-12, informal, and public outreach education. NOAA’s Earth system data visualization and interpretation tools, like SOS, help refine necessary skills such as interpretation, reasoning, and inquiry by increasing exposure to images and animations of satellite and computer modeled datasets. Paired with the expertise of the SOS User Collaborative Network to help direct the development, SOS has become what it is today. SOS’s unique visual nature means that it can be appreciated by all ages. Understanding any one of the SOS catalog’s 500+ visualizations requires the ability to read legends, determine trends, access background knowledge, relate to geography, and ask questions. Even the youngest students are able to grasp complex scientific topics when presented in such a visual manner and the captivating spherical format helps them stay engaged through a lesson. Additional tools including SOS Explorer and NOAA View have broadened the scope of NOAA’s offerings by increasing accessibility for students and classroom educators outside of the museum setting. SOS Explorer is a flat screen version of SOS that can be used as an exhibit for schools and museums that has over 100 of the SOS datasets and lets students and audiences dig into the data in ways that aren’t possible with SOS. In addition to this exhibit version, a free downloadable version with a subset of the most popular datasets called SOS Explorer Lite is available to anyone. NOAA View is a web-based data portal that allows access to over 100 environmental models and satellite images in the real-time, often archived from the beginning of the data set. In this talk we’ll cover specific examples of the challenges that have arisen, and how NOAA, and its close partner NASA, has evolved the program offerings and technologies available to meet the needs of this educational community of practice, along with some thoughts on the future of the SOS User Collaborative Network and NOAA’s STEM educational technology portfolio, and where these tools can enhance the learning experience.

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January 01, 2018

This publication was presented at the following:

AMS 98th Annual meeting - 2018
American Meteorological Society
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