Working on Weather

I love teaching all aspects of Environmental Education, but my very, very favorite will always be WEATHER.  I’m thrilled to get to share it with our fantastic students at McCurdy High School.

December can be a difficult time for planning sessions, since many schools have holiday events and/or exams. Due to the exam schedule, we decided to push our December field day up a week. Ms. Berryhill’s students came to New Mexico Wildlife Center for class.

We began class by discussing weather basics- What is weather? How do we define weather? Where in the atmosphere does weather happen? What’s the difference between weather and climate? Our students picked up this information quickly and asked some really fantastic questions. We discussed how climate change can be compared to a baseball player on steroids, and students asked about the real and fake aspects of some of their favorite weather disaster movies.

Students also learned the basics of weather forecasting. They put together a simple forecast using 850-, 500-, and 350 hPa charts as well as the previous day’s afternoon surface map and the data from the morning weather balloon launch in Albuquerque. Students had to predict the afternoon’s high temperature and the forecast for the next two days. It didn’t have to be an exact forecast- just the symbol that they would put on the 5 day forecast graphic if they were a TV meteorologist.

A student fills in the chart with his group’s forecast

The groups actually did very well- their weather forecasts were spot on, and their high temperatures for Santa Fe were pretty close. Below is the surface map for that afternoon. Two groups perfectly nailed the high temperature! How’s that for 3-degree guarantee?

2100 UTC surface map
2100 UTC surface map

After this forecasting tutorial, students split up into groups and worked through 8 different activity stations. These stations were hands-on demonstrations that highlight some of the more important aspects of weather and climate. Students could create their own groups (we had 5) and move at their own pace (since there were always stations open).

One station focused on albedo and the reflection of the sun’s radiation. One focused on seasons and why the Equator is warmer. One focused on convection currents and the movement of warm and cold water. Another had students calculating their carbon footprint. Students also created a cloud in a bottle and made lightning.

A student marvels at our cloud in a bottle
A density-driven circulation in a Tupperware
Students sit in the sun and use an IR thermometer to guess which pair of socks has a higher albedo

One of the biggest benefits to having class at NMWC was that the students also got to meet our 37 educational animals, including our peregrine falcon, Pippin.

Pippin, the peregrine falcon.

At the end of the day, the McCurdy students knew quite a bit more about both weather and native species of New Mexico than they did in the morning. Mission accomplished.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s