By its very nature, learning is an iterative process of understanding the world. It is a personal journey of discovery that takes many forms, and just like the atmosphere, it is fluid and changes throughout our lifetime. That journey of discovery in weather and climate began for me at the age 5, on a beach in Miami, Florida, as Tropical Storm Bob ushered 30-foot swells on-shore. I was captivated by the power of the atmosphere and ocean, curious about the physical mechanisms that came together to develop such a marvel. From that moment on I knew I wanted to learn about weather. Learning should not be hampered by our age, gender, creed, or race, but it is certainly shaped by our experiences. This experience taught me that atmospheric science is a discipline that cannot be learned through textbooks and mathematical equations alone. It requires immersion in order to fully appreciate the physical system.
Just a few years after Tropical Storm Bob, inspiration struck once again as I stayed up watching Dr. John Hope on The Weather Channel deliver information on Hurricane Hugo as it came ashore near my family in Charleston, SC. Though I was unaware at the time, this experience has been a guide to my philosophy of teaching. Effective teaching is about finding connections with people, as these connections allow an exchange of dialog that enables learning and understanding. Atmospheric science is a rigorous discipline for majors and non-majors alike, and it is important to help lead students to a place of understanding and appreciation for the science. Therefore, the crux of my teaching is to challenge students to place particular concepts within their realm of experiences. For example, there is a myriad of scientific evidence showing that the world is warming, and in particular, dramatic changes in climate are occurring in the Polar Regions. I lean on the concept of interconnectedness, challenging students to think about where they live and discuss the evidence they see that global warming is happening in their backyard. In this manner, I encourage students to explore how weather and climate in distant locations can impact their own experiences.
Textbooks are an instructive tool for learning the basic concepts of synoptic meteorology, weather, and climate. However, the process between knowledge generation and dissemination of important information can be lengthy. Therefore, I believe it is important to maintain a strong and active research program, from which important scientific discoveries may be woven into the fabric of teaching. For instance, when discussing upcoming El Niño impacts on global weather with students, I use my research related to El Niño flavors to explain how impacts differ between El Niño events, a concept not yet illustrated in standard meteorology textbooks. Another example outside my research purview, I use cutting edge research on the attribution of heat stored at ocean-depth to teach about the recent global warming hiatus. One of my goals is to utilize the latest research in order to enable all students graduating from the program to acquire an improved understanding of the current state of atmospheric science and research as well as encourage the development of their own ideas for advancing future research in the discipline. For those students in introductory courses or for whom my class serves as a terminal science course, my goal is to leave them with an understanding of the methods of modern science, the construction of scientific knowledge, and how technology and science serve together to solve problems. The overarching goal is to engage students in a manner that fosters knowledge creation and experiences that they will remember and apply later in their careers, even for those beyond the geosciences.
Because learning is such a personal experience, not every method of teaching translates into successful learning for the student. Therefore, I believe it is important to vary the techniques used in the classroom including question-driven lectures, individual assignments, and group projects that create of sense of peer-to-peer cooperation that is essential in contemporary research and careers. These methods should maximize student immersion in the topics. For instance, maintaining a log of weather observations allows students to connect concepts in the classroom (e.g., cold fronts) to the conditions felt on the ground (increased wind and a drop in temperature). From a synoptic meteorology point of view, it is important to discuss real-world examples of weather processes during each class. I often begin my lectures with an overview of the current weather conditions in Ohio then broaden the scope to include the large-scale dynamics that have led to those particular conditions that day. I rely on a variety of visualization tools to augment my teaching using multi-media elements such as videos, 3D animations, and state-of-the-art synoptic meteorology maps.
Finally, the world we live in today is becoming more aware of the phrase “big data,” which is frequently equated to the use of large data sets that require ever-expanding storage and high-performance computing platforms in order to glean usable knowledge. The big data concept is not new in the practice of atmospheric science, as numerical weather prediction models, global climate model projections, and large observational data sets have long been utilized. However, the atmospheric science community should strive to continue to break down the barriers of its own traditional methodologies for understanding and teaching concepts from these big data sets. I believe the current challenge from the atmospheric science community is to forge strong partnerships with other fields such as statistics and ecology. For instance, a cross-disciplinary strategy could lead to new innovative methods for interpreting projections of future climate change or improving weather forecasts that rely on a suite of different models. Various analytical approaches appropriate for application to large and complex data sets will allow better constraints on the uncertainty involved with modeling, leading to more efficient mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change. Success from a teaching standpoint hinges on effective cross-disciplinary classrooms, bringing teachers together from multiple disciplines in order to teach from an Earth-system framework and to understand further how changes we anticipate will impact people.