Even the youngest learners are aware of weather. It's easy to understand
why they are interested in this topic. Weather directly affects their
plans for the day. It determines how they dress, and what gear-boots,
mittens, umbrellas, sunscreen, etc.-to pack for an event. Rarely does
weather stay the same for long--wherever one lives. Weather is a constantly
changing set of phenomena and easily observable. That's why weather also
provides an excellent topic for scientific study. Even though meteorology
includes some complex science, it is a wonderful example of how scientists
make predictions based on measurements and observations.
Young children will have a working understanding of weather based upon
their direct experiences with weather conditions. They will know that
winds, clouds, rain, snow, heat and cooling are all involved with weather.
However, they may have very little understanding of how these elements
interact to produce weather systems. For them, it's concrete experiences
that drive their understandings. Very young children see weather as isolated
events. They think of it intuitively and momentarily when things happen
that grab their attention. Connecting the different pieces to understand
how one part can cause another, like clouds and rain, or clear skies and
higher temperatures, comes later. Even then, children's ideas are likely
to be limited to what they can actually observe. It's important to see
the ideas children have as building blocks upon which they can develop
a more scientific understanding of weather.
Knowing what ideas children already have about a science topic is critical to providing appropriate learning situations. Time spent revealing their ideas is a good investment. Quite apart from alerting you, the teacher, to their current understanding of weather, it also gets them going--focusing them on what they will be doing. It gives students a stake in the learning enterprise; "This is the bit I have to offer." Finally, it fixes a benchmark for each student against which he or she can make later comparisons, which allows him or her to see how understanding has progressed.
Here are some questions about weather that can be used to get your students thinking. You can have them write or draw answers, share and discuss them with a partner, and then repeat the process with another pair, forming a group of four (Think-Pair-Share):
- What is the weather like today?
- What would be the opposite type of weather?
- How does the weather affect what you do?
- What different kinds of weather are there?
- What do you think the weather will be like tomorrow and why?
When groups have discussed these questions, have them report their ideas to everyone. You can write up these ideas on the marker-board, overhead, or flipchart for later reference.
Each of the investigations that follow are led by an investigative question.
It is important that students come to realize that scientists try to find
out about the world by asking questions, predicting likely answers and
conducting tests to see if their ideas are correct or not.