Branch Out with Weather and Climate

By Eve Pranis

The article Weatherwise Gardeners, and related features, highlight ways to spark student understanding and investigations of weather and climate. Here are some additional suggestions from classroom teachers.

Make rain! Have students cut the top off a clear plastic soda bottle about one-fourth of the way down the bottle. Pour some boiling water into the bottom part of the bottle, then place the bottle top back on upside-down so the mouth of the bottle points to the water. Ask students to predict what will happen when they put ice in the hollow of the upside-down bottle top. Watch what happens.

Look for portents of weather changes. Although Groundhog Day may be more of a midwinter uplift than an accurate way of weather forecasting, certain natural signs do seem to indicate changes in weather. Some people insist that their aches and pains foretell weather events! Certain animals sense weather variation and change their habits. Pinecone scales are said to shrivel and stand out stiffly in dry weather, but become pliable and tighten when rain is on the way. Leaves of many deciduous trees supposedly turn bottom side up 12 to 24 hours before a storm. Morning glory flowers open wide when fair weather is on its way, but close up when inclement weather is near. Ask students to be keen observers of nature to test these statements and to discover other natural signs that weather may be shifting.

Discover dew. Have students find the dew point by using a glass jar or tumbler partially filled with water. Using a thermometer to measure the water temperature, slowly add ice cubes and stir gently. The moment condensation forms on the outside, read the thermometer. This is the approximate dew point. (When the temperature and the dew point come together, it will "dew" on you. It could be rain if warm, snow if cold, or something in between.) Do students' readings coincide with local weather information? Have students measure the dew point every day for a week, then try to make connections between the dew point and weather changes.

Explore plant adaptations to climate. Different biomes of the world -- desert, grassland, tropical forest, and so on -- have dramatically different climates resulting from soil type, temperatures, sunlight, and rainfall. Bring in plants you know to be adapted to different climates and invite students to observe and identify adaptations that they think help plants survive (e.g., pointy drip tips on rainforest leaves such as philodendrons; big leaves on shade-loving plants; or waxy, succulent leaves on certain desert plants.)

Explore climate and culture. Invite students to brainstorm how climate and weather influence the food, clothing, shelter, transport, and culture of people throughout the world. When studying different regions, identify ways in which climate influences people's lives.

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