Elizabeth Malcolm,
Virginia Wesleyan College


This lecture/lab course explores topics of weather, climate and air pollution and is taken by majors and non-majors. The goal of the laboratory is to develops students' understanding of the atmosphere through first-hand experience with scientific methodologies, achieved through weekly lab exercises and a multi-week independent research project.

Course Type: Intro Level:Meteorology
Course Size:

Course Format:
Students enroll in one course that includes both lecture and lab. The lecture and the lab are both taught by the professor.

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with college-level algebra as a prerequisite. Typically 80% of the students are taking the course to satisfy the "Natural Science Laboratory" requirement in general studies and 20% are Earth & Environmental Science majors who are required to take Meteorology or Oceanography. The student enrollment also reflects the diverse student body of the college with about 1/3 of students being African American as well as several first-generation college students.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses?

If students take a non-majors course, and then decide to become a major, do they have to go back and take an additional introductory course?

Course Content:

The course covers standard topics in meteorology and atmospheric science as well as climate change and air pollution. Five laboratories are stand alone exercises to give students hands-on experience with important course concepts. The remainder of the semester's laboratory time is devoted to taking students through their own independent research project, including hypothesis formation, graphical analysis of data, and hypothesis testing using basic statistics. We do one field trip, typically a station tour by a local TV forecaster.

Course Goals:

Course specific goals:
  1. Gain a broad, basic knowledge of the atmosphere and meteorology including an understanding of formation of winds and clouds and the science behind fronts, storms and weather prediction.
  2. Explore the impact of the weather on life on earth and humans.
  3. Investigate man's impact on weather, climate and air pollution.
  4. Evaluate and understand scientific information by acquiring analytical skills and knowledge of scientific research methods.
Goals for all Natural Science Laboratory Courses in General Studies Program:
  1. To develops students' understanding of the natural world through first-hand experience with scientific methodologies.
  2. To conduct hands-on scientific research involving the collection, analysis and interpretation of systematic observations and/or data.
  3. To strengthen students' knowledge of the scientific way of knowing — the use of systematic observation and experimentation to develop theories and test hypotheses.
What are the main features of the course that help students achieve these goals?
The lecture component of the course is broken up by interactive activities such as think-pair-share and small group discussions. In the first 5 stand-alone laboratory activities students work in groups of 3-5, each turning in their own laboratory worksheet/report. These laboratory activities include reading weather maps, analyzing the radiative impact of clouds using satellite data, and comparing the effectiveness of salt vs. sand as a cloud condensation nuclei in a simple lab experiment. The independent research project is an opportunity for students to chose a topic of interest, conduct research at a level appropriate for themselves, and take ownership of a multi-week project. I guide them through the project with deadlines for important project components and spend time with them one-on-one and during the laboratory.


Quizzes on textbook chapters, 3 exams, in-class multiple choice questions (answered by a show of hands), laboratory assignments requiring creation of graphs, basic calculations, and short answer questions. For the independent research project students turn in a project proposal, annotated bibliography, progress report, final research paper and give a presentation to the class.


met_syllabus_malcolm (Acrobat (PDF) 456kB Mar7 14)

Teaching Materials:

Essentials of Meteorology, C. D. Ahrens
Covers topics of interest and is accessible to non-scientists.

References and Notes: