Our Syllabus

Fall 2023 & Spring 2024

Questions answered on our Canvas page:

  • What is the schedule for our class meetings?
  • I want to talk.  How do I get in touch?
  • Where is the link to our book?

Questions answered below:

  1. Why would a student want to take this course?
  2. What are the course objectives? What will I learn?
  3. Where do these objectives lead, intellectually and practically?
  4. What are the prerequisites? What should you already know?
  5. Why do the parts of the course come in the order they do?
  6. Will the course be primarily lecture, discussions, or group work?
  7. Important: What do I expect from my students?
  8. What is the purpose of our assignments?
  9. What will the assignments be like? Memorization? Understanding? More?
  10. Why have these specific books been chosen?



People crossing the road during the rain

1. Why would a student want to take this course?

Weather affects our lives every single day, whether we like it or not.  It's how some people make small talk.  It determines what you wear.  And the extreme events that we'll study -- hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards -- are some of the deadliest phenomena on the planet.  If you come face-to-face with one, I want you to know more about how to react.

2. What are the course objectives?

Students who participate in the course fully will be able to describe extreme weather and climate phenomena and patterns to their family and friends, imparting an appreciation for nature and its impact on our lives.

Learning Outcomes.  In E144, students are introduced to a range of extreme weather-related phenomena that span regions, seasons, and origins.  By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • predict winter precipitation types based on given atmospheric conditions;
  • sketch the typical weather patterns associated with mature midlatitude cyclones;
  • solve problems relating temperature, dewpoint, relative humidity, and the development of clouds;
  • explain how atmospheric conditions conspire to produce thunderstorms and their associated phenomena;
  • identify structural features of thunderstorms in photographs, videos, conceptual sketches, and meteorological data;
  • assess the risk for tornadoes at a location and evaluate the damage that a tornado has produced;
  • describe the mechanisms by which hurricanes develop and cause damage and loss of life;
    use meteorological data to make predictions about hurricane formation and movement; and in doing these things,
  • demonstrate the critical thinking skills expected in an introductory course at IU.

A past student said:

"I liked the energy in the class. It was laid back but we really learned a lot."

3. Where do these objectives lead, intellectually and practically?

I hope that you come to appreciate weather and our environment a little more by the end of the semester.  As astronomer Jack Horkheimer always said, "Keep looking up!"  And, I hope you leave the course better prepared to deal with extreme weather when it comes your way: how to plan, how to know what's happening, and how to react.

4. What are the prerequisites? What should you already know?

None.  There are no expectations -- you do not have to "already be a scientist" or be a science major to take this course.  Some of my strongest students have been from music, interior design, business, political science, and other "non-science" programs.

Many students come in very anxious about the possible use of math.  At the most, we will use percents, fractions, and a little algebra.  That's it.  One of the math problems you would face, for example, might be solving 0.32 = 14 / x.

5. Why do the parts of the course come in the order they do? (Answered for a spring semester version of the course...)

  1. In January, we are in the throes of winter, so winter weather (snow, sleet, freezing rain) should be taught first!
  2. After that, the fundamental system that produces most of our weather is the midlatitude cyclone, so that should come next.
  3. We stop here for a moment and look at weather maps, learn about the fundamentals of clouds and water vapor, and do just a little math.
  4. Then we look at the smaller weather systems that midlatitude cyclones produce: thunderstorms and tornadoes.
  5. Finally, at the end of the semester, we talk about a major phenomenon for summer & fall: hurricanes.
  6. How do you think the course would be arranged differently in the fall semester, from August to December?

6. Will the course be primarily lecture, discussions, or group work?

It's my goal to make our sessions -- as active as possible.  The reason for this?  I think learning is made better when students get to spend time solving problems with one another, not just sitting there while I click through slides.  Each class will be different, some more lecture than others, and some more group work than others, but we will have all three types of work, in various percentages:

  • some time spent with me talking to you ("lecture");
  • some time with you talking to me ("discussion"), answering questions and sharing as a whole group; and
  • some time with you talking to teach other in teams of 2 to 5 people ("group work").

There are no out-of-class group projects (you're welcome).  But as a compromise, in class, yes I will expect you to interact with and work with your classmates.  We will have some assignments that require teamwork to earn a grade.

7. What do I expect from my students?

  • The purpose of being in E144 is to learn cool and interesting things, not simply to score points and get letter grades.  If we spend more time thinking about grades than about science, we've failed.
  • You deserve to have lots of opportunities to show me what you know, and in various ways.  Some of you are math stars; some are gifted in writing.  But I believe you can all do science, and you should get to show that in lots of different formats.
  • Your course grade should represent the quality and quantity of work that you actually demonstrate across the entire course.  It is not just a statistical computation or a mere collection of points to be earned.
  • A couple of semesters ago, a student said to me: “It should be a lot easier to get an A in your class.”  No, it should not.  IU is one of the top 100 universities in the country.  Delivering you an “easy” course would be an insult to all of us.

A-level work is described at most universities as excellent work.  The Free Dictionary even lists one synonym of excellent as “fantabulous.”  So yes, to earn an A, your work must be fantabulous!  As an A student you will skillfully apply your course knowledge in new and unfamiliar situations, and consistently demonstrate that you can think like and solve problems like someone on the way to pursuing a major in the field.  If you want to earn this grade, I will do all that I can to help you do so.

A past student said:

"If you needed help,
he was very willing to help."

8. What is the purpose of our assignments?

We have a variety of assignment types: homeworks, warmup questions, quizzes, in-class labs, and exams.  All of them hopefully give you different kinds of opportunities to demonstrate your learning in our course.  If I structure them correctly, you'll see the same kinds of questions on the same topics multiple times, so that you continually get more practice with each content area and work toward mastery by the end of the semester.

9. What will the assignments be like? Memorization? Understanding? More?

This is not a class where you can just "memorize the vocab" and do fine.  You have to use it.  Examples:

  • Know the textbook definition of a tornado?  Okay, that's a good start.  But can you identify one in a photo?  Can you explain what the cloud looks like in the minutes before the tornado develops?  Those are the kinds of things I would expect you to do.
  • Can you look at a satellite image of clouds and say "yep, that's a hurricane"?  Again, good start.  But (after some practice!) can you then determine where the storm surge is going to be, where the damage will be worst, or how many miles of coastline need to evacuate from the storm?  Expect questions like that.

Technical explanation: I use Bloom's Taxonomy -- a lot -- when planning our course.  You'll do most of the "Remember" tasks on your own.  As a class, we will work on more complicated tasks: how to Understand weather phenomena, then Apply data to make forecasts, and then Analyze how all the pieces fit together.

10. Why have these specific books been chosen?

I wanted you to have the feeling of a "real" textbook, but with ZERO cost.  So I chose a free publication from the Federal Aviation Administration.  It's not perfect, but with some supplements it is definitely good enough for the price!

  • Aviation Weather (AC 00-6B)
  • Some supplements that I have written, on satellite imagery and on relative humidity and clouds
  • Pages from the NOAA/NWS JetStream page
  • Other free resources as necessary

The most important goal for me when it comes to books: to ensure you pay zero for them.


Photo credits: 1. Savvapanf Photo - Adobe Stock. 


Page updated on August 1st, 2023

Past Course Evaluations

If you're a student at IU, you have access to my recent course evaluations through the OCQ Student Dashboard. Check them out!

"What Past Students Said"

Here is a snippet of my written evaluations from one of the recent times I taught E144.
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