Fourth-graders can learn about weather and the environment by interpreting weather maps, studying clouds, examining tornado formations and measuring rainfall. Weather has a direct impact -- both good and bad -- on the environment, so students should examine connections between the two. Classroom activities involve examining, predicting and interpreting weather-related information.
Live Weather Reports
Divide your class into groups of three or four students each and ask each team to create a live weather report, using radar, satellite, precipitation, wind-speed and temperature maps. Ask students to create a forecast that coincides with current real-world conditions in your area or allow them to choose any city and develop a possible weather report for that location. Give your students Internet access, so they can research weather maps and draw their own. Encourage each member of the weather team to present part of the forecast and discuss environmental factors, such as how heavy rainfall might lead to flooding or severe winds might uproot trees. Set up a news desk in front of your chalkboard or white board, so students can present or hang weather maps and charts. Video-record the forecasts for your class to watch later.
Have your students make individual rain gauges out of plastic 2-liter bottles; ask parents and co-workers to donate empty bottles about a week before the activity. Before the lesson, cut off the top of each bottle at the widest part. During class, have students place small pebbles or rocks in the bottom quarter of their bottles. Invert the bottle tops so the spout is facing downward on top of the bottle. Use masking tape to secure the bottle tops and bottoms, and place a piece of tape from the top of the rocks to the top of the bottle. Use a ruler to mark off every 1/4 inch along the tape strip, starting closest to the rock line. Students should fill their bottles with water to the start of the tape, just covering the rocks, and measure the liquid increase after a rainstorm. Discuss how rain or a lack thereof affects the environment; topics include drought, flooding, erosion and mudslides.
Teach your students the four major types of clouds -- cirrus, cumulus, nimbus and stratus. Give each student four pieces of blank paper and have the students draw examples of each type of cloud and list characteristics of each. Students should choose one of the four cloud types and come up with an ideal play-date schedule that would work in those weather conditions. For example, a student who chooses nimbus clouds knows a storm is brewing and thunder, lightning and heavy rain are possible. Her play-date schedule might include shopping, going to the movies, playing indoor card games and sitting on her covered patio to watch the rain. Encourage students to discuss how cloud formations affect the environment -- for example, how nimbus clouds make it unsafe to play outdoors because people or trees might be struck by lightning or how stratus clouds in cold weather could mean it's time to put on winter clothes and drag out the sleds.
Severe Weather and the Environment
Discuss how severe weather -- hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, high winds and thunderstorms -- affect the environment. Show before and after pictures of landscapes that have been altered by historic floods, tornadoes or hurricanes. Discuss how the damage affects wildlife, plants, structures and humans, but avoid graphic images with fourth-graders. Take your students to an available science lab or kitchen area at your school, and divide the class into groups of four or five students each. Plug the sink, fill it with water and have each group watch the water as it goes down the drain. Discuss how the swirling motion forms a vortex, like that of a tornado.
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