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Toth brings science lessons down to Earth

April 20, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, PA.

Todd Toth has taught in Waynesboro Area School District classrooms for 29 years, but recently he educated his high schoolers from a vastly different venue - a jet flying 46,000 feet over Hawaii at speeds of more than 500 mph.

Toth kept in communication with his students during his 10 days as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's first "Teacher in the Air."

His daily log from Hawaii started with the typical "Aloha!" and description of the weather found scribbled on postcards, but Toth wasted no time before delving into the formulas to convert knots and miles per hour to feet per hour. Those formulas came complete with an asterisk and additional thought.

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"Definitely a classroom lesson here!" he wrote.

He eliminated the "When am I going to use that?" factor associated with those formulas by explaining that his onboard workstation computer was presenting data in mph, whereas the pilots were receiving their data in knots per hour.

"A lot of what we do, as far as the weather information, affects our daily lives," Toth said.

His trip from March 7 to 17 was the inaugural effort of NOAA's Teacher in the Air program, which is an offshoot of its Teacher at Sea program, currently in its 16th year.

The Teacher at Sea program allows educators to work side-by-side with professionals who monitor the oceans and atmosphere, according to the program's Web site.

In the air program, Toth boarded a Gulfstream IV-SP (G-IV) known as "Gonzo" and assisted with dropsondes, packages of scientific equipment that measure temperature, relative humidity, pressure and wind speed and direction.

"You get a vertical profile of the atmosphere," Toth said.

The crew also flew into the core of the jet stream, monitoring its wind speed and composition.

Toth only learned of the trip in late February, giving him little time to show his students how to access the information he would be sending them while in flight. However, Toth said the ninth- and 10th-grade students he teaches "took this and ran with it."

"I taught them how to send e-mail to me and download pictures," Toth said. "We were just conversing back and forth."

Toth credited the flight crew for its help in creating a wonderful experience for him and the students.

"I was like a little kid in a toy store," said Toth, who noted the time flew as fast as the plane. "Before I knew it, we were half way to Tokyo."

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