Elementary students are familiar with weather because conditions outside affect them daily. During the summer, parents remind children - "Wear sunscreen. Drink water." Winter comments include - "Button up. Keep your hat on your head." In the fall and spring, they hear - "Carry an umbrella. Bring along a light sweater." Before children reach a double-digit age, they know how temperature and precipitation influence their clothing and activities. Getting students interested in weather science projects is a breeze with all this prior knowledge to build upon.
Projects presented below in detail include a weather station, weather journal, weather vocabulary wall, climatic zone travel brochure, layers of the atmosphere, air pressure, fronts, wind, water cycle, cloud formation and meteorological presentation.
Every class studying weather needs a weather station. Some teachers prefer to setup an entire station at the beginning, but other teachers think it is more beneficial to add instruments as the students learn more about their functions. For starters, hang a thermometer outside a classroom window. Secure an empty can on a ledge outside the classroom window as the rain gauge. Periodically, pour the contents of the can into a marked graduated cylinder to determine how many inches or centimeters have fallen. Post daily newspaper weather forecasts on the board. Students can easily construct all other instruments in projects to follow.
Students initially record observable weather conditions like cloudiness and temperature. As students learn to read more instruments, their journal entries will be more substantial. The entry should take place generally around the same time everyday for consistency. If the journal is to be graded, share a rubric with the students.
Weather Vocabulary Wall
Before showing the Eyewitness Meteorology Video, write down questions answered by the video on pieces of paper from which students will randomly select a question. While watching the movie, students listen for and record the answer to their question. Afterwards, hand out a 2-column weather sheet with a vocabulary word in one column and the corresponding definition in the other column. As students share answers with classmates, they highlight the word on their weather sheets to reinforce listening. Post students' questions along with answers on the wall with creative labels like Dillon's Barometer' and Sarah's Anemometer'.
Climatic Zone Travel Brochure
Reiterate that weather is current conditions while climate is the frequent weather conditions of an area averaged over a series of years. Assign different climate zones to each group. Give each student a colored Climatic Zone map found at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/activities/08/popup/images/climate_map.gif?fs=crane.nationalgeographic.com. Students gather information about their zone's location using the map, an atlas and a computer. They organize collected materials into a travel brochure. Students should include what countries are within their zone, what types of animals and plants thrive there, how are natives affected by the climate and which industries are prevalent. Display completed brochures in the classroom like a travel agency.
Layers of the Atmosphere
Hand out and review notes on conditions found at each layer of the atmosphere. Break the children into preferably 5 groups. Provide pens, pencils, markers and crayons. Have five pieces of paper, each one representing a layer of the atmosphere. Start each group with a page and set a timer to 1 minute. Students have to draw or write something pertaining to the layer. When the timer goes off, pass the paper. Examples of what can be drawn are weather/clouds in the troposphere, ozone layer/airplanes in the stratosphere, meteors/rock fragments burning up in the mesosphere, space shuttle orbiting in the thermosphere and satellites revolving in the exosphere. Layer the five pieces of paper in order going up a wall or closet door.
Pass around a barometer for children to look at. Give examples of weather associated with high and low pressure systems. Using a baby food jar without the lid, a straw and a balloon, each child makes a barometer for the weather station. Stretch the balloon on top of the baby food jar and lightly tape the straw on top. Line up the barometers along a shelf across from a window with a white piece of paper behind it. Every morning with a different colored pencil mark how the straw's shadow is moving up or down. Explain that the homemade barometer is merely representational. Students compare their barometer to the professional barometer and record differences in their weather journals.
Lay out weather maps from newspapers. Send children on a scavenger hunt. Post clues on the board like two air masses are meeting. What state do they meet in and what does the front look like? Students make an outline, draw pictures and label and/or describe weather conditions each front brings. Attach students' descriptions or drawings to a blown up map.
After reviewing what wind is and what factors cause wind, display the Beaufort Scale on an overhead or whiteboard. Divide students into small groups. Give each group a type of wind condition to act out for the other students to guess. Then, hand out a sheet listing winds like westerlies, trade winds, polar easterlies and doldrums along with pictures on maps. Using atlases students draw and describe in their own words the type of wind patterns and strengths. Students finishing early may put their wind descriptions into song lyrics or poetry.
Make a wind vane for the weather station. Each child gets a square piece of wood that can be cut by Home Depot or Lowe's. Both tend to cut the wood for free if you go at a quiet time. Hammer a nail into the middle of each block. Buy a little wooden rooster from a craft store for students to decorate. Each student gets half a drinking straw with a small slit made at the top for the rooster to sit in. Students write N, S, W, and E on the block of wood. Place the straw with rooster attached over the nail. Take it outside. Which way is the wind blowing?
Make an anemometer for the weather station. Photocopy a protractor. Students cut it out and paste it onto a piece of light cardboard (gift box). Hole punch at the base and tie on a practice golf ball with thin string (fishing line). Take it outside. How many degrees is the wind blowing?
Water Cycle and Cloud Formation
Go over the steps of the water cycle and types of clouds. For each student prepare a blue piece of paper divided into three levels low, medium and high with descriptions of each along with cloud names. Personalize students' papers by inserting a sidebar labeled (child's name) Climbing Clouds. Using cotton balls, children make and glue on clouds. Suspend the clouds from the ceiling.
As a compilation project, students can produce their own weather forecasts complete with weather maps, reports and props. If possible, record the budding meteorologists. Children like nothing better than seeing themselves on television. These weather projects for elementary students only scratch the surface of what can be accomplished at home or in the classroom. For additional information, seek out resources like The Weather Report Book by Mike Graf, Ranger Rick's Nature Scope: Wild About Weather and Weather by Discover Science Series.