Seeing Weather Through Chaos: A Case Study of Disembedding Skills in Undergraduate Meteorology Students

Peggy McNeal Department of Physics, Astronomy and Geosciences, Towson University, Towson, Maryland

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Heather Petcovic Mallinson Institute for Science Education, and Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan

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Teresa Bals-Elsholz Department of Geography and Meteorology, Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana

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Todd Ellis Mallinson Institute for Science Education, and Department of Geography, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan

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Abstract

Disembedding, or recognizing patterns in a distracting background, is a spatial thinking skill that is particularly relevant to the interpretation of meteorological surface and upper-air maps. Difficulty “seeing” patterns such as cyclonic flow, thermal ridges, or pressure gradients can make weather analysis challenging for students. In this qualitative case study, we characterize how three undergraduate meteorology students with varying disembedding skill complete a series of meteorological tasks. Videos and transcribed verbal data collected during the task, as well as participant products, were analyzed for instances of disembedding and rule-based reasoning. Results demonstrate that the student with greater disembedding skill relied on observing patterns embedded in meteorological maps in conjunction with rule-based reasoning, whereas the two students with lower disembedding skill preferred generalized application of rules. These results can aid meteorology instructors in recognizing students who struggle with disembedding data and patterns and inform the development of instructional interventions in undergraduate meteorology classrooms.

© 2019 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Peggy McNeal, pmcneal@towson.edu

A supplement to this article is available online (10.1175/BAMS-D-18-0015.2)

Abstract

Disembedding, or recognizing patterns in a distracting background, is a spatial thinking skill that is particularly relevant to the interpretation of meteorological surface and upper-air maps. Difficulty “seeing” patterns such as cyclonic flow, thermal ridges, or pressure gradients can make weather analysis challenging for students. In this qualitative case study, we characterize how three undergraduate meteorology students with varying disembedding skill complete a series of meteorological tasks. Videos and transcribed verbal data collected during the task, as well as participant products, were analyzed for instances of disembedding and rule-based reasoning. Results demonstrate that the student with greater disembedding skill relied on observing patterns embedded in meteorological maps in conjunction with rule-based reasoning, whereas the two students with lower disembedding skill preferred generalized application of rules. These results can aid meteorology instructors in recognizing students who struggle with disembedding data and patterns and inform the development of instructional interventions in undergraduate meteorology classrooms.

© 2019 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Peggy McNeal, pmcneal@towson.edu

A supplement to this article is available online (10.1175/BAMS-D-18-0015.2)

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