Weather and Climate: Unit Outlines

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content in this issue of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears? Not sure where to begin? We’ve created unit outlines for Grades K-2 and 3-5 using some of the resources found in the Weather and Climate: From Home to the Poles issue. Rather than be a rigid and prescriptive unit plan, the outlines are meant to spark your creativity and help you integrate these resources into your own particular teaching situation.

The unit outlines follow the 5E Learning Cycle model – engage, explore, explain, elaborate, evaluate.

Have an idea for another Weather and Climate unit? Share it with us – and other teachers – by leaving a comment below!


GRADES K-2 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit was designed to introduce primary students to weather vocabulary and develop their abilities to make observations and record data. It uses firsthand experience, data, and text to answer these questions: How does the weather change over time? How can we talk about changes in the weather?


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Earth and Space Science (Grades K-4)

  • Changes in the Earth and Sky

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 – Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

7 – Students conduct research on issues and interests.

8 – Students use a variety of technological and information resources to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage

Read aloud a book like What’s the Weather? by Melissa Stewart (from the Weather and Climate virtual bookshelf) and talk about what students know about weather. You might choose to start a KWL or KLEW chart to record student ideas and questions. Introduce the unit questions: How does the weather change over time? How can we talk about changes in the weather? and Can we predict the weather?

Explore

In this phase of the unit, students will collect weather data over a period of time appropriate for the grade level. This data may be a combination of qualitative (observations) and quantitative (numerical values), depending on the grade level and needs of your students. The lessons listed below may be helpful as you plan these experiences.

What Is It Like Outside Today? (Grades K-1)
Students learn to read a thermometer and color paper thermometers to show temperature. Students also begin to explore how a range of temperatures fits into each of the seasons.

Weather Walks (Grades K-2)
Students will learn about weather by taking walks in various types of conditions: sunny, rainy, windy and snowy. Each type of walk includes language arts and literacy connections.

As the lessons suggest, students can collect data in a variety of ways. Walks around the playground or schoolyard can provide a wealth of observations. Simple instruments like thermometers can be used as well. These can be purchased from science supply catalogs or made as part of a weather station.

Students should record their data in a weather book that will also be used in the Explain phase of the unit. A sample book is described in the lesson Calendar & Weather Book. The book’s contents will vary depending on the age and abilities of the students, but they should represent each day’s weather visually and in writing. Teachers of very young students might record data as a class and provide teacher-made pages that can be illustrated by students and later assembled into books. The last two pages of the book should be left blank for use in the Explain phase of the unit.

Continue to revisit and revise the KWL (or KLEW) chart as needed.

Explain

The first part of this phase should be spent helping students develop an understanding of weather phenomena and vocabulary. It can be conducted simultaneously with the data collection activities described in the Explore phase. Students should read (or be read) books about weather that will help develop the vocabulary and understanding needed to discuss the weather with others. Some titles are listed in the Weather and Climate virtual bookshelf. The lesson Cloud, Rain, and Fog provides guidance in how nonfiction texts and structured conversation about text features can help build understanding of science concepts. As students read and discuss, continue to revisit and revise the KWL (or KLEW) chart as needed.

The second part of the Explain phase should be reserved until students have developed a solid understanding of weather and weather-related vocabulary and have collected sufficient data. Read What Will the Weather Be? by Lynda DeWitt (from the Weather and Climate virtual bookshelf) aloud and explain to students that they are going to use their observations and understandings of patterns to make predictions about the weather. Students will return to their weather books, updating their entries with correct vocabulary and any additional information gained from reading and discussion. On the second-to-last page of the book, students will make a prediction for the next day’s weather based on the patterns they have observed in their data. They will record their predictions and explain their thinking. At this time, teachers might share newspaper or online forecasts with students so they can compare their predictions to those of expert meteorologists.

The next day, students will observe the weather and record data on the last page of the book. They will also evaluate whether or not their prediction was correct and share their thinking.

Expand

Ideally, student questions will drive this phase of the unit. However, teachers might plan to expand the unit in the following ways:

  • Study meteorology, the science of weather forecasting. Read books, examine newspapers and TV clips. Visit a news station or invite a local meteorologist to speak to the class.
  • Allow students to explore their own questions and interests related to weather. The lesson Weather: A Journey in Nonfiction provides guidance in organizing and managing small groups of primary students as they complete a research project.
  • Select another location and track its weather, comparing and contrasting with the weather at home. The lessons How’s the Weather – in Africa? and How’s the Weather Today? provide sequences for this type of study with primary students.
  • Relate weather patterns to seasons and seasonal change. The issue Polar Patterns: Day, Night, and Seasons provides a wealth of resources for introducing and studying seasons in the primary grades.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Observation of students tracking and working with data, as well as their written records, will provide insight into their ability to collect and analyze data.
  • Observation of students as they create their weather books will provide insight into their mastery of the science content as well as their writing ability. Work with students as needed to clarify and reteach concepts.

Summative Assessment

The weather books created by students serve as the summative assessment for this unit, demonstrating their ability to answer the unit questions: How does the weather change over time? How can we talk about changes in the weather? and Can we predict the weather? Books can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for science content, writing, and visual representations of information.

GRADES 3-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit was designed to help students develop an understanding of weather through a comparison of weather data from several locations. It uses real data, text, and inquiry to answer the question How does the weather in the Arctic, Antarctica, and [insert hometown] compare?


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4 and 5-8)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Earth and Space Science

  • Changes in the Earth and Sky (Grades K-4)
  • Structure of the Earth system (Grades 5-8)

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 – Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

7 – Students conduct research on issues and interests.

8 – Students use a variety of technological and information resources to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage

Read Recess at 20 Below by Cindy Lou Aillaud (from this issue’s virtual bookshelf) aloud. The book invites readers into the school day of students in Delta Junction, Alaska – including going outdoors for recess at 20 below zero! Allow plenty of time for students to examine the photographs and react to the text as you read. You can make the experience more concrete by displaying the types of winter clothing and gear that the students wear on a daily basis.

Student conversation around the text should naturally turn to comparison between the weather and students’ experience in Delta Junction and the weather and experiences in their hometown; if it doesn’t, use purposeful questioning to move the conversation in this direction. Locate Delta Junction on a map, if you haven’t done so already. Locate the Arctic Circle (the southern border of the Arctic region) and ask students to predict what the weather might be like even farther north than Delta Junction, Alaska.

Next, read Antarctic Journal: Four Months at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Owings Dewey (from our Science at the Poles virtual bookshelf). Locate Antarctica on a map, and ask students to predict what the weather would be like there.

Finally, introduce the question How does the weather in the Arctic, Antarctica, and [insert hometown] compare? Post the question in a visible location for the remainder of the unit.

Explore

In this phase of the unit, students track weather data for their hometown as well as locations in the Arctic and Antarctica. Teachers of younger students might divide the class into groups that focus on a single location, while older students can collect data for all the locations. You may tell students what types of data to collect (temperature, precipitation) or you might ask students to use their prior knowledge of weather to determine what data to collect. Students should use some sort of graphic organizer – teacher-provided or student-generated – to record data.

The British Antarctic Survey’s web site lists current temperatures (in Celsius) at various locations in Antarctica. The Athropolis web site includes an interactive map that shows communities, villages, and research stations throughout the Arctic. Students can click on the yellow dots to display current weather information for each location.

Students can collect local weather data from the newspaper or the Internet, or from a schoolyard weather station. See our article Weather Stations: Teaching the Science and Technology Standard for information about creating simple weather tools. More sophisticated tools are available through science supply companies.

Students should be guided to analyze their data, represent it graphically, and make comparisons between the weather data for the various locations. The three lessons listed below provide guidance for helping students work with weather data.

Investigation 6: Collecting Weather Data (Grades 3-5)
In this investigation, students collect weather data for two weeks. They will start seeing patterns and be able to make predictions.

Investigation 7: Interpreting Weather Data (Grades 3-5)
Students graph, compare, and interpret the weather data from Investigation 6.

Weather Scope (Grades 3-5)
In this project, students observe and track weather in their hometown and two additional locations to learn about weather, factors influencing weather and climate, and weather forecasting.

At this point in the unit, students will have made observations about differences between the weather in the Arctic, Antarctica, and their hometown. They may not be ready to explain the cause of these differences – a topic best undertaken in the Explain phase.

Explain

In this phase, students should develop an understanding of how and why weather differs between the two polar regions, as well as between the polar regions and their hometown. Geography is of course a factor, and the effect of latitude and proximity to the equator should be discussed. The animation Why is it cold at the poles? introduces students to three reasons why the poles receive less solar radiation than the equator (and are therefore colder): the distance the rays travel before reaching Earth, the angle at which the rays strike Earth, and the high albedo (ability to reflect light) of the ice that covers much of the polar regions.

Students may also have noticed that Antarctica, especially at the South Pole, is much colder than the Arctic. Read our Feature Story Antarctica: King of Cold to discover why. The text is available at three reading levels (K-1, 2-3, and 4-5) and in three formats (text-only, illustrated book, and electronic book).

Students can share what they’ve learned by creating an informational brochure for residents of their town planning to travel to either the Arctic or Antarctica. Along with some general information about the region, the brochure should contain weather information by month or season, an explanation of the differences in weather between their hometown and the selected region, and suggestions for appropriate clothing. The lesson All About Our Town: Using Brochures to Teach Informational Writing can be modified for use in this context. A sample writing prompt for students might read:

You are a tour guide who specializes in expeditions to the polar regions (the Arctic and Antarctica). You are working with a group from [insert name of your town] to help them prepare for an upcoming trip to either the Arctic or Antarctica. Write an informational brochure that describes the region, focuses on typical weather (by month or season), and gives packing suggestions. Make sure to explain why the weather is different from that in [insert name of your town].

Students should select either the Arctic or Antarctica for their brochures. While they are writing, they should have access to all materials and data used throughout the unit. You may also wish to bring in samples of informational brochures from different states or tourist locations to serve as reference material.

Expand

Ideally, student questions will drive this phase of the unit. However, teachers might plan to expand the unit in the following ways:

Assess

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.
  • Observation of students tracking and working with data, as well as their written records, will provide insight into their ability to collect and analyze data.
  • Observation of students as they create their informational brochures will provide insight into their mastery of the science content as well as their ability to write in this genre. Work with students as needed to clarify and reteach concepts.

Summative Assessment

The informational brochures created by students during the Explain phase serve as the summative assessment for this unit, demonstrating their ability to answer the question How does the weather in the Arctic, Antarctica, and [insert hometown] compare? Brochures can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for science content, writing, and visual representations of information.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright June 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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