in the Outdoor Program have been experimenting with various aspects of the weather. Upon returning to school after the holiday break, they began studying the weather, both indoors and out. We have been discussing the out of the ordinary weather that the east coast has been experiencing this winter. Students have many theories as to why it is so warm, so windy, suddenly very cold and then warm again. Some say El Nino is responsible. Others say cold air is not being brought to New Jersey because of some kind of Canadian blockade. The Outdoor Program teachers have been listening closely to their students ideas and, in doing so, have planned the next day’s lessons based on what they hear. Here are a few weather experiments we have done in the classroom to test our student’s theories or confusions.
Sea Surface Temperature
A few of our students have been vocal about El Nino. They have been hearing about it on the news. El Nino can be a complex and dynamic area of study, but it can be easily broken down into subtopics to investigate. In this experiment, students used real NOAA satellite data to look at shifts and changes in sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. Not only did they get to practice reading maps, including key features such as isotherms, longitude and latitude lines and a color key, they were also able to form hypotheses about what weather events occurred during separate years in the Pacific.
The Angle of Earth’s Rotation
Studying winter weather must come with a background knowledge of what makes the winter season happen. It is a common misconception for students to believe it is because we are further away from the sun, making the temperature colder. This experiment allows students to discover the reality of that misconception on their own.
How can air from Canada be blocked from entering New Jersey. How does air move? What makes the wind? Why does the wind blow hard some days and not so hard on other days? These are the various questions that led to our provocation using the air density experiment. In this experiment, an unfilled balloon is placed on top of an empty liter bottle. The liter bottle is then submerged in hot water and then cold water. Students observe what happens to the balloon on top of the bottle and make deductions based on their background knowledge and observations.
After studying what happens to air as it heats up and cools in the Air Density experiment, students use this activity to see what happens to hot and cold air when they come into contact. In this case, water and air are comparable as fluids and act the same. This activity also directly correlates to what students are studying in the Pacific Ocean with sea surface temperatures and the movement of ocean water.