Articles | Volume 8
06 Jun 2006
06 Jun 2006

A virtual tornadic thunderstorm enabling students to construct knowledge about storm dynamics through data collection and analysis

W. A. Gallus Jr., C. Cervato, C. Cruz-Neira, and G. Faidley

Abstract. A visually realistic tornadic supercell thunderstorm has been constructed in a fully immersive virtual reality environment to allow students to better understand the complex small-scale dynamics present in such a storm through data probing. Less-immersive versions have been created that run on PCs, facilitating broader dissemination. The activity has been tested in introductory meteorology classes over the last four years. An exercise involving the virtual storm was first used by a subset of students from a large introductory meteorology course in spring 2002. Surveys were used at that time to evaluate the impact of this activity as a constructivist learning tool. More recently, data probe capabilities were added to the virtual storm activity enabling students to take measurements of temperature, wind, pressure, relative humidity, and vertical velocity at any point within the 3-D volume of the virtual world, and see the data plotted via a graphical user interface. Similar surveys applied to groups of students in 2003 and 2004 suggest that the addition of data probing improved the understanding of storm-scale features, but the improved understanding may not be statistically significant when evaluated using quizzes reflecting short-term retention. The use of the activity was revised in 2005 to first have students pose scientific questions about these storms and think about a scientific strategy to answer their questions before exploring the storm. Once again, scores on quizzes for students who used the virtual storm activity were slightly better than those of students who were exposed to only a typical lecture, but differences were not statistically significant.