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Synoptic meteorology is foundational to atmospheric science, and it is critical that students strengthen their ability to think critically and independently in this course. Anecdotal evidence from teaching similar courses, and from education literature in the physical sciences, has pointed to the value of problem solving using data from real events. This inquiry project allowed further investigation of optimal instructional methods for this particular course, and led to the qualitative and partially quantified conclusion that hands-on in-class activities seem to support the most significant learning gains. In addition, this project led to the conclusion that a high degree of peer interaction and detailed, immediate instructor feedback are critical aspects of optimal instructional strategies in this course. These findings give added confidence in using such instructional methods in future offerings of this and similar courses, and represent a piece of evidence that can be used to make the case that the introduction of some alternative instructional methods may lead to learning gains.