Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
This week, my children (5 and 7 years old) focused on climate and how it works. This post offers 5 experiential science weather and climate activities for kids of all ages. My own children and I worked through these activities this week, and those experiences are highlighted in this post along with some modification ideas for older students.
I do a similar "5-day experiential science schedule" on climate with my high school students with added scientific open-inquiry experiments, maker projects, problem-based learning challenges, etc. more suitable for their abilities, needs, and level of required support. The high school content is more difficult, the expectations are different, and the level of independence is higher.
This was an interesting week to start a climate theme because in Minnesota we are going through a transition of seasons; winter to spring. It's still pretty chilly here right now, so some solar experiments required a little creativity, but we made it work. Check out our week and try it out with your own children or students!
If you’re looking for experiential learning tools such as activity ideas, design tools, and implementations systems, grab my free experiential learning tools mini-bundle.
Week of Experiential Science: Experiential Science Weather and Climate Activities for Kids of All Ages
Monday: DIY Weather Instruments
We made a radiometer, rain gauge, and weather vane. Watch this video for a detailed explanation.
With my young kids, I used the radiometer to explain that the sun is a powerful source of energy. That's it. A weather vane is a great way to introduce the significance of wind when it comes to climate. A weather vane shows the direction that the wind is coming from, which can help make predictions about imminent weather conditions.
We made these weather instruments the first day of the week because we wanted to record the weather each day. At the end of the week, we graphed our daily records and calculated average precipitation and air temperature.
This launched a dialogue about the difference between weather and climate. The weather will be rainy and cool tomorrow (short-term) whereas the weather this week was typical of Minnesota climate in April (long-term).
How climate works is a lot more complex than what a radiometer or weather vane can tell students. I used these instruments to introduce the basic concepts of weather and climate to a 3 and 5-year-old.
High schoolers could grasp more advanced climate concepts such as how the Coriolis effect, Hadley cells, Ferrel and polar cells influence atmospheric circulation.
High school students can still make weather instruments but should use it as an introduction or supplement to a more advanced activity on climate and the atmosphere. Check out my atmospheric circulation maker stations for a ready-made resource and/or inspiration for creating your own.
Tuesday: Weather Vs. Climate Art Activity
Part of experiential learning is making the experience personal by identifying student interests and giving the experience personal meaning.
My children both love to paint, so I had them use their love of art to demonstrate their understanding of the difference between weather and climate. They both painted a picture of each season and described the difference between the weather tomorrow, for example, and Minnesota’s climate.
Another important component of experiential learning is that it is self-directed, allowing students choice in process and outcome. I do a lot of self-directed project-based learning with my high school students, and they choose how to demonstrate learning.
Allow your older students to CHOOSE how they will demonstrate their understanding of weather vs. climate rather than have them make art pieces. There are a variety of final product ideas to demonstrate learning, and adding that level of choice makes adds relevance for your older students.
Wednesday: Energy Experiments
The Earth's surface is what heats the planet, so different surface materials heat the Earth in different ways. Some absorb radiant energy and some reflect it.
Albedo is the amount of energy that is reflected. I set up a lab for my young kids to test the albedo of different surfaces. The purpose was to see which surfaces reflect solar energy and which ones absorb it.
My children chose the surface materials, made predictions, did the experiment, and discussed their results. My young kids could grasp that different materials have different temperatures. They also seemed to understand that the sun is responsible for the heat.
There were a lot of valuable pieces to this experience other than the science including 21st-century skill-building. My kids practiced writing, addition and subtraction, reading a thermometer, problem-solving, writing, graphing, and more.
We then made our own solar ovens using Pringle's jars. One was wrapped in black paper, and the other in red. My son predicted that the marshmallow in the black container would cook faster because of the albedo experiment they had already done. My daughter said the red would cook faster "because the marshmallows will taste good". She's 5 ;)
Solar energy is the foundation of climate science. It drives the whole system. The energy budget is a balance between the amount of incoming solar energy to Earth and outgoing energy out into space. If that budget is off, climate shifts.
Older students can: 1) ask their own questions and design their own experiments in relation to the energy budget, and 2) understand the implications that surface materials have on the global climate in real-life.
Pavement, for example, would absorb more solar energy than would a marsh. How we manipulate the Earth's surface will impact the global climate.
Thursday: Ocean Circulation Demo
This was by far my children's favorite activity this week because they love anything that involves water. A LEGO water park was the byproduct of my thermohaline circulation demo.
The ocean plays a large role in the global climate. Salinity and water temperature influence ocean circulation because salty, cold water is denser than fresh, warm water.
This demo shows how the density differences put water into motion. This circulating water moves heat around the globe, moderating coastal temperatures.
My young kids understood that the blue water had salt in it. They also understood that it sank because it was "heavier" than the water that did not have salt in it. They loved to watch the demonstration and it inspired a lot of questions, which is always my end goal!
My own young children did not understand the bigger picture or how this concept applies to the ocean and climate, and I wouldn't expect them to. They are 3 and 5. But I would expect that high schoolers could grasp these concepts. Have students watch this thermohaline circulation demo play out in full and then move on to my ocean and climate inquiry stations resource.
Friday: Data Analysis
My children and I did several activities this week that required recording data and figuring out what all of those numbers mean. We analyzed the weather data that we recorded each day, put the numbers into graphs, and learned how to read those graphs.
We also put the results of our albedo and solar oven experiments into graphs. I set the graphs up for them and had my kindergartener put his numbers into it, with my guidance.
Both kids were able to read the graphs to a certain degree and draw conclusions from those charts. For example, they could see from the graph that we had the most precipitation on Monday, or that the dark surface materials were the warmest.
As I said above, your older students could do climate experiments as well but should make their own observations, ask their own questions, and design their own experiments.
For unlimited self-directed experimentation, check out my scientific inquiry tool kit. Your older students should also design their own method of collecting data and create their own graphs entirely.
These activities are meant to inspire and be modified to your own students and situation. That is the beauty of experiential learning. It is not only personalized to each unique student but to your unique classroom or homeschool. If you have any questions about these activities, reach out! I love talking experiential science!
Are you looking for more information about experiential learning? Check out these blog posts!
If you're looking for high school climate resources, check out this bundle of options!
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Observe. Question. Explore. Share.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.