Weather and climate are integral factors in the way the earth's land masses, oceans and atmosphere interact. Scientists are still trying to understand this complex interplay, as the results are often crucial to human activity. A basic knowledge of weather and climate will help young students form the foundation from which to build deeper thinking about the earth as a system. Students should begin their study with concrete activities. Hands-on projects about weather and climate are engaging and will enable students to connect with more complex concepts.
Make a classroom weather station by nailing a 1-foot square piece of pegboard to a 3-foot-long stake. Fasten a thermometer, rain gauge and barometer to the pegboard with wire. Draw a compass on a 3-inch square board and nail it to the top of the stake, leaving a ½-inch gap between the nail head and the board. Fasten a windsock to the nail with fish line. Sink the stake in an 18-inch hole in an open area with the thermometer facing north and adjust the compass accordingly. Gather weather data at the same time daily.
Weather vs. Climate
Help students understand the difference between weather and climate by gathering and charting weather information over three or four months. Each kind of information (temperature, precipitation, wind) should be kept on its own graph. Each day the information is collected, have a quick discussion of the day's weather. Once the data has been collected for a month, have a discussion about the temperature and precipitation trends for the month. Do the same after two and three months. Discuss how these trends constitute climate, whereas the daily observations make weather.
Make a line graph of the daily high temperatures for a month, using information from a newspaper or online source. Discuss what the daily average, or "normal" temperature, means, then graph it on the same graph, using a different colored line. Talking about the difference between the two lines will help illustrate the difference between climate and weather. Ask students how the graphs help them to predict tomorrow's weather or if this seems to be a warmer or cooler than average month. Or, pair with a school in another climate and complete the project together, making weekly comparisons via the Internet.
Climates Around the Globe
Assign groups of students different climates to study, such as arid or polar. Each group can prepare a poster for their assigned climate that meets a minimum of requirements. First, it must define the significant attributes of that climate. It must also display a world map that marks places on earth that have that climate. Finally, it should include two to three pictures (either drawn by the students or cut from magazines) that demonstrate how the climate in one or more of these places has affected human activity.
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