U.S. Congressman Paul Hodes Cuts Ribbon on New Mount Washington Observatory Distance Learning Initiative

ATKINSON, NH – April 8, 2009 – For many years, Mount Washington Observatory educators have traveled around northern New England, bringing interactive, entertaining weather education programs to schools. These engaging programs have educated thousands of students about the science of weather and climate, offering teachers a unique approach to communicate weather concepts to their students. Today, Mount Washington Observatory unveiled an innovative new educational program that now allows schools throughout New Hampshire, New England and the nation to connect live and in real-time with the famous weather station atop New England’s tallest peak.


Mount Washington Observatory launched its new distance learning initiative on Wednesday in a ceremony with United States Congressman Paul Hodes and the fifth graders of Atkinson Academy in Atkinson, NH. From the warmth and comfort of the school’s computer lab, the students and event guests participated in a live videoconference with weather observers on the frigid, windswept summit of Mount Washington. From Atkinson to Alaska and everywhere in between, teachers across the country now have a compelling educational resource that can enhance their ability to teach about extreme weather and the fundamentals of climate.


The initiative was funded through a $401,000 appropriation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Education (NOAA). Locally, additional support was provided by G4 Communications and Public Service of New Hampshire.


“Just imagine how interesting it will be for students across the country,” said Scot Henley, executive director of Mount Washington Observatory. “What was once taught through textbooks is now delivered through live video and interactive presentations. Students in grades four through twelve now have the opportunity to enjoy compelling educational programs, conducted by the Observatory’s passionate scientists, with one of the world’s most extreme places as a backdrop.”


Through prior funding from Observatory sponsor L.L.Bean and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, some of the technological infrastructure necessary to deliver the new distance learning programs was already in place. A microwave link between the legendary weather station atop Mount Washington and the Observatory’s Weather Discovery Center in North Conway, New Hampshire carries all voice and data between the two facilities, and scientists living and working at the Observatory have been providing interactive, but fairly basic live programs to Weather Discovery Center visitors for several years.


This new endeavor has essentially turned a small portion of the Observatory’s mountaintop facility into a mini television studio, with lights, cameras and audio/visual equipment. A similar studio has been created in the Weather Discovery Center, allowing distance learning programs to be virtually hosted by educators in North Conway, who can then connect live with scientists on the 6,288-foot summit of Mount Washington. Pre-produced video segments about weather extremes, life on the mountain and natural phenomena are also part of the new distance learning initiative. The blend of live interaction and substantive content makes for a very unique, high-energy program for students.


"This provides a one-of-a-kind learning opportunity to classrooms all over the country," said United States Congressman Paul Hodes (D-NH), who was instrumental in procuring funds for the new program. "By combining technology with the environment we are able to provide a unique learning experience and bring a piece of New Hampshire to students everywhere."


The launch of the distance learning initiative comes at a good time for the non-profit Mount Washington Observatory. In addition to recent television appearances on Good Morning America, the CBS Early Show and CBS Evening News, the Observatory was featured in the February edition of National Geographic magazine. “Over the last couple of years, there has certainly been a lot of awareness built around the country about Mount Washington and the work of the Observatory. We want to build upon that exposure so that the Observatory can ultimately serve as a resource for teachers across the country,” said Henley.


As budgets are slashed across the country, more and more schools are eliminating field trips entirely. The Observatory’s distance learning programs are priced at just $195 per program, making them a suitable alternative to a typical field trip requiring busses, lunches and chaperones. Many science centers around the country have developed distance learning capabilities for the same reason.


Find more information about Mount Washington Observatory distance learning under the education tab at www.MountWashington.org or call (800) 706-0432, ext. 225.


Mount Washington Observatory is a private, non-profit, member-supported organization with a mission to advance understanding of the natural systems that create the Earth's weather and climate. Since 1932, the Observatory has been monitoring the elements in one of the most extreme locations on Earth, using this unique site for scientific research and educational outreach. For current conditions, seven webcams, photos, forecasts and information about supporting the Observatory, visit www.MountWashington.org.


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