Why teach the science of meteorology by assigning readings, drawing pictures of fronts on the board and explaining the role of barometric pressure when kids can feel the excitement of measuring and interpreting real-time weather data. If you thought that setting up a weather station was beyond your school’s technical and economic resources, Davis Instruments’ Vantage Vue is a complete system that is solar powered and connects wirelessly to an unlimited number of classrooms. Be careful, its starting price of $395 can rise quickly with accessories.
The center of attention for the Vantage Vue is what Davis Instruments calls the Integrated Sensor Suite (ISS). It’s a white and black plastic set of instruments and digital probes. Well built and durable, it sits atop a 1.25-inch diameter pole and mounting it on a roof requires neither an electrician nor a maintenance worker. Davis sells a $75 mounting tripod for schools with a flat roof or setting it up on a playground.
There’s a handy bubble level on the ISS so that it’s hard to mount it at an angle, but make sure you have a compass handy to align the device with North. The ISS captures data on a variety of physical parameters from temperature, barometric pressure and precipitation to wind speed and direction. In other words, it is a full weather data center.
Solar powered, the instruments are self-powered but require a backup battery that Davis says should last about 2 years of normal use. This might be easier said than done, if the device is set up on a roof with minimal access.
The data is sent wirelessly to Vue’s excellent LCD console, which makes setting the device up a snap. The console shows what’s happening at the moment as well as trends, but needs to be within about 1,000 feet of the ISS instruments. That range can be extended with a wireless repeater.
A big bonus is that the ISS can connect with an unlimited number of consoles, which cost $195 each. This way every science classroom in the school, and even the main office, can be outfitted with access to the latest weather info.
There’s another, less expensive way to send the data throughout the school. The company’s $295 WeatherLinkIP kit lets the ISS communicate with an unlimited number of computers anywhere in the building. It comes with an adapter that plugs into the console and the schools LAN as well as the needed software.
Just load the software on a computer and it can grab the data from the console and display it as a series of graphs. Double click on any area to drill down to view the underlying data and view trends. In another section you can plot any parameters for classroom analysis, for instance, the relationship between outside temperature, wind speed and the wind chill index.
Davis also sells the same software with a USB cable for connecting to a single computer for $165. While the IP software works with PCs and Macs, the USB version only works with PCs.
Using the software’s IP abilities, I connected the Vue to my network router and it worked like magic displaying the weather results on several different computers. The WeatherLinkIP package can transfer the data to a Web site.
I love that the software can produce a chart of data in the National Weather Service format for comparison with other stations. It covers the range of data collected, and includes sunrise, sunset, moon phase and a vague weather prediction. Click on any graphs and the recent historical data is shown.
Davis has lesson plans available for elementary- through high-school classes, and its Web site has current weather conditions from amateur weathermen (and weather-women) from Andorra to Venezuela; many countries have multiple weather stations listed.
Like an ala carte menus, the price of Vantage Vue starts low but adds up quickly. With the base equipment, an extra console, connection kit and tripod, the set up can push $800. It’s more than worth it because the system requires little maintenance and can open a world of science to a class.
+ Complete weather monitoring system
+ Quick and easy set up
+ Wireless console
+ Impressive network or USB software
+ Online lessons
- Price adds up quickly
- Need to replace sensor’s battery every two years