Our Projects

Educational programs at the UCAR Center for Science Education align with our mission to develop educational experiences that connect NCAR|UCAR science to diverse learners, creating pathways towards a scientifically literate society. We accomplish our mission by:

  • Developing high-quality learning materials for learners of all ages that are shared on the UCAR SciEd website,
  • Providing virtual and in-person learning experiences through the exhibits and tours at our facilities and through educator conferences and public events, and
  • Supporting Proteges during summer research and year-round through the SOARS Program.

Explore highlights about current and past programs below.

Current Projects

SOARS logo


Principal Investigator: Kadidia Thiero 

Funder: National Science Foundation 

Website: https://soars.ucar.edu/ 

We are proud to be the host program for the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) office. SOARS is an undergraduate-to-graduate bridge program designed to broaden participation in the atmospheric and related sciences through building a strong and supportive learning community, strong scientific and career mentoring, and providing hands-on experiences in research. SOARS is designed to promote and support research, mentoring, and community. SOARS Protégés can participate for up to four (4) summers conducting research in atmospheric and earth-system sciences. Over 90% of SOARS Protégés advance to graduate school, and many enter the workforce with a MS and/or Ph.D. degree.

  • Education Level: Undergraduate to Graduate
  • Type of Collaboration: Sponsor a SOARS Protege; Connect with Teachers and Faculty; Reach Underserved Audiences

STEM Career Connections logo

STEM Career Connections

Principal Investigator: John Ristvey

Funder: National Science Foundation 

Website: https://www.colorado.edu/program/schoolwide-labs/nsf-itest

The STEM Career Connections project is a partnership between the UCAR Center for Science Education, the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the Vail Valley Foundation. This project aims to develop an innovative career readiness model for both in and out of school settings that will profoundly increase the knowledge of and interest in STEM and computing careers for middle school youth in rural, economically disadvantaged mountain state communities. To achieve this goal, we have three integral components of the project: 1) a community partnership working together to support youth engagement in STEM and computing career pathways, 2) a STEM curriculum where youth use advanced sensor technologies to engage in science and engineering investigations, and 3) integrated career experiences that encourage youth to make personally-relevant connections with local STEM and computing occupations. Funded by the National Science Foundation, this project aims to advance the efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program.

  • Education Level: Middle School
  • Type of Collaboration: Develop Instructional Materials; Connect with Teachers and Faculty; Reach Underserved Audiences

Clouds, Weather, and Climate Teaching Box

Principal Investigator: Lisa Gardiner

Funder: NSF-CAREER via University of Virginia

Website: https://scied.ucar.edu/teaching-box/clouds-weather-and-climate-teaching-box 

UCAR Center for Science Educations Lisa Gardiner worked with University of Virginia professor Kevin Grise to develop the Clouds, Weather, and Climate Teaching Box. The educational resources in this virtual teaching box have been designed and sequenced to help build student understanding, align to the Next Generation Science Standards, and connect with Grise’s area of research. 

  • Education Level: High School
  • Type of Collaboration: Develop Instructional Materials; Connect with Teachers and Faculty


Principal Investigator: Becca Hatheway

Funder: NSF PIRE via the University of Rochester

Website: https://scied.ucar.edu//atmospheric-dust-climate

UCAR Center for Science Education worked with scientists from several U.S. universities, led by a team from the University of Rochester, to develop educational resources about the carbon cycle and related processes happening in Central Asia and the Pacific Ocean that influence climate change. For use at public science events and in museums around the country, these materials include a station-based game, a hands-on activity exploring transport of atmospheric dust, an activity that uses a series of data maps to tell the story of dust, and a Science On a Sphere® (SOS) Live Program that includes visualizations of dust and its impact on climate. We also developed an augmented reality activity to interact with the dust and climate visualizations using a smart device. These new resources are available on the SciEd website through the link above.

  • Education Level: General public 
  • Type of Collaboration: Develop Educational Resources; Connect with Museum Educators and Faculty

Hurricane Resilience

Principal Investigator: Lisa Gardiner

Funder: NOAA Environmental Literacy Program

Website: https://scied.ucar.edu/hurricane-resilience 

Hurricane Resilience is a high school environmental science curriculum for use in coastal locations where hurricanes are common. Through 20 days of instruction, students make connections between the science of hurricanes, how they affect their community and region, and how we can plan for a more resilient future. Making local connections, students develop an understanding of 1) the risks that their community faces now and in the future due to hurricanes and tropical storms, 2) how sea level rise increases the risk, and 3) how our actions can help us be less vulnerable and more resilient. The curriculum unit aims to empower high school students to have a voice in resilience planning and understand the relationship between the science of hurricanes and the local impacts these storms have on people and places. The curriculum was developed in collaboration with the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center and with science expertise at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. It was piloted and field-tested in Terrebonne Parish and Lafourche Parish schools. 

  • Education Level: High School
  • Type of Collaboration: Develop Instructional Materials; Connect with Teachers and Faculty; Reach Underserved Audiences

Project Resilience

Principal Investigator: Becca Hatheway 

Funder: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Website: https://scied.ucar.edu/project-resilience 

With the Project Resilience curriculum, high school students examine the environmental challenges facing communities along the Gulf of Mexico and learn about resilience planning using a resilience planning toolkit. The curriculum spans about 20 days of class time, divided into seven lessons, with an optional student project extension (Lesson 8). The first four lessons of the curriculum, focus on learning about the environmental challenges and scientific processes in the Mississippi River delta. Students gain an understanding of what the Mississippi River delta is and how it forms, why deltaic formation is important for coastal communities in the Gulf region (including the importance of wetlands and estuaries), and why the deltaic coast is vulnerable. Lessons 5-7 of the curriculum, focus on resilience planning and adaptation strategies using a resilience toolkit. As a case study, students explore current and future projects planned for Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, including criteria for choosing and evaluating factors that put communities at risk, and the scope of different types of projects. Project Resilience then leads students through the development of a School Resilience Plan, which contains student-designed projects to address one or more environmental challenges affecting their school campus. An extension of the curriculum is to implement one of the student projects from the School Resilience Plan. Project Resilience was developed by UCAR Center for Science Education and the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center (SLWDC), and was piloted and field-tested in the four Terrebonne Parish high schools. This project was supported by the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine under Grant Agreement number 2000009811.

  • Education Level: High School
  • Type of Collaboration: Develop Instructional Materials; Connect with Teachers and Faculty; Reach Underserved Audiences

Past Projects

AirWaterGas: NSF Sustainability Research Network

Principal Investigator: Lisa S. Gardiner

Funders: National Science Foundation via University of Colorado, Boulder

In partnership with researchers from the AirWaterGas team, curriculum experts from UCAR Center for Science Education convened a cohort of middle and high school science teachers who teach in areas of Colorado with oil and gas development. During the 2014-2015 school year, the cohort participated in a series of online professional development courses about the local and global impacts of oil and gas development. Teachers learned best practices in science curriculum development and then completed curriculum projects as Teachers-in-Residence. The PBS LearningMedia  website includes a select group of the activities, with short videos created in collaboration with Rocky Mountain PBS explaining fracking and its impacts. The project also developed explainer articles in collaboration with Inside Energy at Rocky Mountain PBS to answer general public questions about the impacts of oil and gas development in Colorado. 

Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes

Principal Investigators: Randy Russell, Susan Foster, Rajul Pandya

Funders: National Science Foundation via Colorado State University

Website: http://hogback.atmos.colostate.edu/cmmap/ 

The Center for Multiscale Modeling of Atmospheric Processes (CMMAP) Science and Technology Center was an international consortium managed by Colorado State University. CMMAP developed a revolutionary approach to climate modeling to help us better understand the roles clouds play today and in the future as our climate changes.  

UCAR Center for Science Education’s two main contributions to CMMAP education efforts included 1) development of educational resources for K-12 education and 2) support for undergraduate and graduate students via the SOARS Program. UCAR Center for Science Education created educational simulations, activities, and articles about clouds and climate for K-12 teachers and students. CMMAP resources can be found in the Learning Zone section of the website. The SOARS Program is a workforce development program supporting  students from underrepresented communities as they conduct research in the geosciences, with multiple levels of mentoring over the course of one to four years. These activities contributed to CMMAP’s vision for education, which is “Earth-science literacy for students, teachers, policy makers, and the general public.”

  • Education Level: K-12
  • Type of Collaboration: Develop Instructional Materials; Build Apps, Games and Interactive Simulations; Sponsor a SOARS Protege

Elementary GLOBE

Principal Investigators: Becca Hatheway, Lisa Gardiner

Funder: NASA

Website:  https://www.globe.gov/web/elementary-globe 

Elementary GLOBE, part of the GLOBE Program, is designed to introduce students in grades K-4 to the study of Earth system science through storybooks and hands-on learning activities. The Elementary GLOBE curriculum resources include seven learning modules: Air Quality, Climate, Clouds, Earth System, Seasons, Soils, and Water. Each learning module contains a storybook and several companion classroom activities. A Teacher Implementation Guide provides an overview of Elementary GLOBE, standards alignment, and information about the curriculum’s connections to other parts of elementary school curricula.

In each storybook, the GLOBE Kids (Simon, Anita, and Dennis) explore an aspect of their local environment. Storybooks are available as free downloadable PDFs and eBooks at Elementary GLOBE and are available for purchase from Amazon. Hands-on classroom activities, coloring pages, and the Teacher Implementation Guide are available as free downloads from the Elementary GLOBE website

  • Education Level: Elementary School
  • Type of Collaboration: Develop Instructional Materials; Connect with Teachers and Faculty

Engineering Experiences

Principal Investigators: John Ristvey, Randy Russell

Funder: National Science Foundation-funded ITEST project with the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL) in partnership with the University of Colorado, Boulder

Website: http://stelar.edc.org/projects/19009/profile/engineering-experiences-research-student-competency-motivation-and

Engineering Experiences explored how middle school students from low-income families could engage in engineering after school to complement the science and engineering learning during the normal school day. Our initial goal was to introduce various engineering topics/platforms related to the atmosphere and associated sciences, including wind power, solar energy, aircraft design, atmospheric sensors, and testing physical models of dropsondes using a wind tunnel. We then developed over a dozen lessons using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones that were very popular with students ranging from upper elementary through high school. The project team tested our learning materials with several after-school programs in Colorado, which served students from low-income families by offering after-school or summer programming for students.

  • Education Level: Middle School
  • Type of Collaboration: Develop Instructional Materials; Reach Underserved Audiences

GLOBE Data Explorations

Principal Investigator: Lisa Gardiner

Funder: NASA

Website:  https://scied.ucar.edu/globe-data-explorations 

GLOBE Data Explorations are classroom activities developed by the UCAR Center for Science Education to help students learn how to analyze GLOBE environmental data while also learning atmospheric science concepts and geography. All activities can be downloaded for free, and the GLOBE Data Explorations book is available from Amazon.

  • Education Level: Middle and High School
  • Type of Collaboration: Develop Instructional Materials

GLOBE Weather: an NGSS-driven Middle School Curriculum

Principal Investigators: John Ristvey, Becca Hatheway, Lisa Gardiner

Funder: NASA

Website: globeweathercurriculum.org 

With GLOBE Weather, middle school students explore phenomena related to weather and storms during a five-week unit to help them understand weather at local, regional, and global scales. They analyze weather data collected by schools that are a part of the GLOBE Program, and they collect their own observations of the atmosphere following GLOBE Atmosphere Protocols.

Developed to address Next Generation Science Standards, the GLOBE Weather curriculum focuses on student explorations of weather phenomena, utilizing a storyline approach within the BSCS 5E learning cycles. The curriculum focuses on analyzing and interpreting weather data and developing models to explain and document student understandings. Avenues for further explorations of weather with the GLOBE Program provide opportunities to extend learning with student research projects.

  • Education Level: Middle School
  • Type of Collaboration: Develop Instructional Materials; Connect with Teachers and Faculty

Resources for Learning About Monsoons 

Principal Investigator: Lisa Gardiner

Funder: National Science Foundation via Yale University

Websites: http://worldmonsoons.org/ ; https://scied.ucar.edu/docs/about-monsoons 

UCAR Center for Science Education’s Lisa Gardiner worked with Yale professor William Boos (now at UC Berkeley) and COMET visualization expert Steve Deyo to develop monsoon science educational resources, including web-based articles, illustrations, and a data-driven visualization of global monsoon patterns. Resources were disseminated online via the Learning Zone and the Learn About Monsoons section of the World Monsoons website and used in a Yale University summer course about monsoons for high school students. 

  • Education Level: High School
  • Type of Collaboration: Tell Science Stories: Online Resources; Connect with Teachers and Faculty

Zika Zine

Principal Investigator: Lisa Gardiner

Funder: US Department of State via the GLOBE Implementation Office

Website: https://scied.ucar.edu/zikazine 

The Zika Zine is an outreach effort of the GLOBE Zika Education and Prevention Project. This informal education resource was translated into ten languages and disseminated to librarians and teachers in the GLOBE Mission Mosquito network. 

While the Zika Zine’s fictional mosquitoes can talk, they otherwise do the same sorts of things as real Aedes mosquitoes, which carry the Zika virus. Read the Zine, learn how Aedes mosquitoes live, and discover how to reduce the number of places where mosquitoes can survive. You’ll also find out how citizen scientists are helping NASA by documenting mosquito habitats with GLOBE Observer. After you’ve read the Zika Zine, download the coloring pages, How to Draw Wanda in 9 Easy Steps and Make Your Own Zika Zine Comic and create your own mosquito pictures and stories.

  • Education Level: All Ages
  • Type of Collaboration; Tell Science Stories; Online Resources

Major Partnerships

NCAR Education and Outreach Logo

NCAR Education and Outreach: NCAR’s commitment to Education and Outreach is to provide educational and training experiences for all learners. NCAR’s programs support the advancement of individuals’ careers in the atmospheric and related sciences. NCAR entrains future generations of diverse scientists and engineers into its research, inspires and engages the public, and demonstrates the importance of NCAR’s mission to the media and policymakers. NCAR makes all opportunities, resources, and programs accessible and welcoming to individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and institutions.

Smithsonian affiliate logo

Smithsonian: In 2015, UCAR became a Smithsonian Affiliate. This is a national outreach program that develops long-term partnerships with museums and educational organizations.

GLOBE program logo

GLOBE: The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program is an international science and education program that provides students and the public worldwide with the opportunity to participate in data collection and the scientific process, and contribute meaningfully to our understanding of the Earth system and global environment. As a GLOBE Partner, UCAR SciEd develops educational resources and collaborates with other GLOBE Partners to reach audiences around the world.