"Our lives are so affected by weather-related changes that occur throughout the year here in the North, that my third graders and I regularly track signs of seasonal changes," reports Wayzata, MN, teacher Rick Johns.
Each of Rick's students keeps both a weather calendar and a "phenology log" with observations about natural changes they've observed: squirrels gathering acorns, oaks turning color, or heavy frost falling. Students track temperatures, cloud types, and approximate wind speed, and use journals and computers to record measurement data and observations. As students review their data and compare it with previous years' information from a local weather guide, they try to predict key events: the emergence of the first dandelion or tulip, when certain trees will have buds and blooms, when the ice will go out on the lake, and so on.
"We draw on our language skills to describe changes that occur," says Rick. "Like creating metaphors and similes -- the leaves were as big as quarters -- to record changes in growth." As students observe the weather and changes in plants, they begin to understand the impact of sunlight, rainfall, and other climatic factors on living things. "Students were amazed to see how quickly growth happens or buds emerge when temperatures soar, and how abruptly things slow during a cold spell," explains Rick. "Although measuring and recording skills can be hard in third grade, students were motivated because the information was relevant," says Rick. "They were eager to observe and track changes because there were always surprises that emerged," he adds.
Weather: sometimes we don't like it, but we certainly can't live without it. The general climate and more immediate weather influence how we live, what we eat, and all of the plants and animals with which we are interdependent. Since it's an ever-present fact of life, why not learn to observe it, predict it, and discover what makes it tick?
If you are cultivating school gardeners, your students have good reason to be in tune with the weather. They need to know when conditions are right for seeds and transplants, when to protect tender plants from frost, and when to provide "rain" when mother nature doesn't. Whether your students are outdoor gardeners, schoolyard observers, or indoor growers, invite them to examine what spells the changes in seasons, how climates vary throughout the world, and how shifts in sunlight, warmth, and moisture affect all living things. Maybe rather than complain about the weather, students will begin to see it as a springboard for curiosity and discovery.