Sunday, October 30, 2011

Colorado Weather Diagrams

Colorado Weather Diagram
This week, students created Colorado weather diagrams in order to think more deeply about significant weather events and what must be done to prepare for these events. The lesson also provided an opportunity to talk about using primary resources when conducting scientific research. Not surprisingly, with this week's early-season snowstorm, many students chose winter storms as their primary research focus—although tornadoes are always popular, too.

Here are the guidelines for the lesson:
Pick one Colorado weather event to research in more detail. Use the primary resources on our science website and the materials (primary resources, posters, textbooks, etc.) in the classroom for your research. Create a labeled and illustrated diagram about your event, and include the following information:
  • What are the necessary ingredients for this type of weather event?
  • How/why/when/where does this weather event occur?
  • What are the hazards and impacts of this event on humans? 
  • What are some good safety preparations and guidelines for this type of weather event?
  • Don’t forget descriptive title, caption, color, etc...
Use the space on the paper to organize your notes and create a rough draft. Your final draft goes on a separate sheet of paper.
There are several reasons that I like this lesson:
  • It reviews/reinforces the concept of using primary resources when conducting scientific research. We get a chance to discuss the appropriate use of resources such as Wikipedia and textbooks, and the benefits of getting as close to the primary source as possible when engaging in scientific research. In the case of severe weather, NOAA and the National Weather Service are definitely excellent primary resources. A list of the guides we used appears at the end of this post.
  • The research questions are multidimensional, covering both the mechanics of weather and its impacts on human beings. Students complain that sometimes their favorite TV shows are interrupted by severe weather warnings—this lesson helps them understand and appreciate the necessity of these interruptions and the potential life savings that occur because of them.
  • There is room for creative expression. The more I teach, the less I specify how a particular assignment should be presented by students. I speak in terms of generalities: a well-designed diagram with appropriate communication elements such as title, caption, labels, arrows, color, etc. Our classroom standard of excellence is that students may be as creative as they wish, but they cannot distort, exaggerate, or dilute the scientific data; and, their presentation must be such that an intelligent stranger would fully understand their work without being confused or needing to ask basic questions such as "What is this?" or "What does this mean?"
  • Students are expected to rough draft and peer edit their work, which emulates the peer review process in science.

Here are links to the primary resources used in this lesson:

NOAA Safety and Awareness Publications, Brochures, Booklets for Children and Adults

NOAA Preparedness Guides:

NOAA Owlie Skywarn Guides:

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