Pulaski County High School (Va.) science teacher David Carroll is designing a class where students can study weather forecasting, jetstreams, pressure systems and cloud movement without stepping outside or opening a book. In fact, they wouldn’t even leave their computer.

Instead, Carroll’s meteorology class will be one of the nation’s first high school courses taught on the internet. Eventually, it will become a college-credit course taught solely on the web.

Besides studying Carroll’s web site, his students will be able to call up radar readings, weather station information, and weather maps, all available on the web.

“Meteorology is one of the few sciences you can look at in real time,” Carroll said. “The amount of weather services that are on the web is just incredible.”

But Carroll is adding a lot of his own material. For the past two years, he has spent about four hours each day patiently adding thousands of his own photos of local weather patterns, diagrams and explanations to his site.

His vision for the project is a class where students can sign on at a designated time, download the day’s lessons, and eMail him questions. Once they have finished a test, they can simply press the “send” button.

“I don’t want this to be an online textbook,” he said. “I want it to be a fully interactive class.”

The concept began in Carroll’s earth science class three years ago, when students became so interested in the semester on meteorology that they suggested turning it into its own course. Carroll started the meteorology course, making it one of the school’s most popular. He and his students would get excited every time they heard about a hurricane, major snow storm, or tornado, he said.

“It is kind of an adrenaline rush,” Carroll said.

But the biggest rush for Carroll has been watching several of his students successfully pursue meteorology at the college level.

“The first college class was a breeze after this,” said J.V. Clark, a 1997 Pulaski County High School graduate who is studying meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. “Pick any weather and I love it. I find it fascinating.”

That success helped create the online version of the course where any student can attend class, no matter where they live. Students throughout the country would have an opportunity to study classes–like meteorology–that their own school system could not afford.

Carroll–along with other local educators–believe that is where education is headed. The idea is inquiry-based learning, allowing students to follow their own interests and develop them using a mix of curriculum.

He is employing the help of Bell Atlantic and Virginia Tech’s Institute for Connecting Science Research to the Classroom.

“The advantage is that students can get to the material,” said John Wenrich, the institute’s associate director.

But Carroll recognizes there are drawbacks as well. Students lose personal interaction with the teacher. They are not as monitored, and they could find new ways to cheat.

“The students may not be used to that type of instruction,” Wenrich said.

But everyone involved thinks the online high school course is something worth trying.

“He is trying new things all the time,” said Barbara Layman, the high school’s chairwoman of the science department. “We’re just real proud of him.”

The first site will be introduced next month, and Carroll concedes it will involve a lot of experimentation and guesswork.

But he can tell you what the expected forecast will be.

This winter “is going to stay average, maybe a little warmer than average. It will be a little dry,” he said. “Our springtime may be more normal.”

Pulaski County High School

http://admin.sbo.pulaski.k12.va.us/schools/pchs/index.html

Bell Atlantic

http://www.bellatlantic.com

Virginia Tech

http://www.vt.edu