You don’t need expensive, fancy equipment for students to measure and forecast the weather. It is fun and easy to teach students about weather instruments and their uses without spending a lot of money! We spent a week outside measuring temperature, air pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction and precipitation with a shoestring budget!
In past weather units, we gathered our weather data using a weather website. It was quick and dirty and could be done in less than five minutes This year, I wanted to find a way to make our weather lessons more engaging and meaningful.
I decided to take a little bit of a risk by taking my classes outside to participate in some hands-on activities to measure the weather. It was such an engaging experience, I can’t imagine going back to my old ways!
I felt it was important for students to have a one-stop-shop for all of their weather information. We created a booklet with everything they needed to know about weather instruments and their uses. The first page of our booklet was our daily weather log. The rest of the booklet contained notes on the factors that affect weather (temperature, humidity, wind and air pressure).
As I introduced each factor with a PowerPoint, students took notes as we discussed the method of measurement and how they worked together to affect our weather. The booklet was a great source of reference for the rest of our unit.
TIP: The document camera was a lifesaver for modeling how to read thermometers (the old fashioned analog ones!) and barometers!
Our First Trip Outside
Middle school students are funny creatures. Especially sixth graders. I thought they would be thrilled to go outside to explore weather instruments and their uses. I was wrong. There was definitely some moaning and groaning about the cold. Apparently, they are too cool to wear coats and would rather freeze than let their friends know they own a jacket.
Measuring Temperature and Humidity
Thermometers are an inexpensive purchase and can be used to measure both the temperature and humidity. We have a set of v-backed alcohol thermometers similar to these.
Since I do not have a hygrometer in the classroom, we made sling psychrometers. These are easy to make with household supplies and the students LOVE using them!
Materials: two thermometers, rubber band (I used my daughter’s tiny hair bands), string, 2-inch x 2-inch material to wrap around the bulb (I used muslin cloth, but cheesecloth or a cotton ball will work too!)
Assembly: Wrap the cloth around one thermometer bulb. Secure with a rubber band. Attach both thermometers together with a string.
Directions for use: Dip the material in water to wet. Swing the string around your head for one minute. Quickly read the calculations on the wet bulb and dry bulb. Calculate the difference between the bulbs. Use a conversion table to calculate the relative humidity. This sounds complicated but is VERY EASY to do! Note: due to copyright, I have not included a conversion table, but they are easily available online.
To make it quick and even easier, we used the dry-bulb reading to measure temperature. This killed two birds with one stone!
Measuring Wind Speed and Direction
Scientists use instruments such as wind vanes and anemometers to measure wind direction and speed. I do not have access to either of these in the classroom, so we improvised using a compass, Beaufort Scale and matches. It worked beautifully!
To Measure Wind Direction: Teach students how to read a compass. Note the direction of the wind. Wind direction is measured in the direction that the wind is coming from.
Tip: If the wind direction is difficult to determine, light a match and note the direction the smoke is moving. Alternately, students can toss a handful of grass into the air to see which way it blows.
To Measure Wind Speed: If you do not have an anemometer, it is easy to use the Beaufort Scale (which can easily be found online). Students will observe the wind speed using the matching descriptions to determine the approximate speed of the wind.
It is always fun to see how class results compare with the results of a local weather station or app.
A plastic rain gauge is an inexpensive investment. You can purchase one at a local hardware store for less than five dollars. We were lucky to have some rain during our weather observations. Surprisingly, the gain gauge was a huge hit with my students!
Measuring Air Pressure
One of my favorite weather tools to use is a barometer. I have an aneroid barometer in my classroom and it is very easy (and surprisingly accurate) to use. Simply set the dial and watch to see if the pressure rises or falls. Falling air pressure indicates clouds, rain or storms. I tell my students to think “when the pressure is falling, rain is falling.”
Putting It All Together
I have to admit that the first day we went outside, collecting weather data seemed like an impossible task. I am pleased to tell you that the learning curve was much faster than I expected! After two days, the students became much more comfortable at collecting data and seemed to enjoy the process. They were able to make connections between different weather factors and even make some basic weather predictions.
Most of all, I am pleased to say, after two days, jackets and hoodies started to appear!