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UMass Lowell Students Find Way to Predict Peak Foliage


LOWELL ߝ When students in the Graduate School of Education are learning how to teach science, what better way than first learning how to do science?

The 16 students in Asst. Prof. David Lustick’s science methodology class decided to follow their curiosity about fall foliage ߝ how does one know, and predict, when an area is at peak color?

Predicting peak fall foliage color is big business in New England, where the annual invasion of “leaf peepers” adds more than $2 billion to the economy. But, for these future classroom teachers, the point of engaging in an authentic experiment was to enable them to recognize opportunities for similar experiences with their students.

The students investigated ways to collect and analyze foliage data, develop a process to identify color and make a graphic determination of peak. Using online webcams of scenic vistas, they approached the problem of color quantification from both an analog and digital perspective. The results revealed a high level of agreement.

“Our observations show a sequence of changes,” says Lustick. “The red, orange and yellow increase; green decreases. Then green disappears, followed by an abrupt drop in all colors. We calculate a ratio of fall colors to non-fall colors. Once the ratio rises above one, we have a one to 10 scale of peakness ߝ what we are calling the ‘UML color index.’”

The project was funded by a grant from the Faculty Development Center and was presented at a conference of the Eastern Educational Research Association.

About the University of Massachusetts Lowell

UMass Lowell,, a comprehensive university with a national reputation in science, engineering and the health sciences, is committed to educating students for lifelong success, and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region. UML offers its 11,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Management, School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education.

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