Summer Storms - Precipitation

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Students will examine prior knowledge about precipitation, ask meaningful questions, and develop a model for collecting data.

Big Idea

Students will practice asking specific, thoughtful questions related to scientific content and will begin to develop an understanding of questions that can't yet be answered due to insufficient data.

For the Teacher:

This lesson is presented as a one day lesson but I spent 2 one hour periods with this material.  The conversations are very rich.

I found the Southwest Climate Change Network out of the University of Arizona had very detailed and interesting information precipitation patterns in Arizona and New Mexico.  It helped clarify that in Tucson, we have convection storms and frontal storms but not relief rainfall.  Our city is ringed by mountains, which influence precipitation patterns, but relief rainfall is from an interaction between mountains and the ocean.

This animation from Great Britain describes low pressure weather systems and might be something you want to show your class because it illustrates the movement of fronts and rising hot air associated with different types of precipitation.

If you are going to search on your own for YouTube videos, let me save you some time!  

I would dissuade you from using the NASA "Cool Clouds" video.  As is sometimes the case with brilliant people, the NASA scientist in this video jumbles his words a bit and while as adults we understand what his intentions are, young children and especially ELL students might get a bit confused.  


What Do You Know About Precipitation? (science writing prompt)

15 minutes

I really want my students to develop the habit of asking meaningful questions related to either their curiosity or the need to solve a problem.  To that end, I'm immediately getting them into the habit of starting off many of our science lessons with a prompt.

Today, I ask them, "What do you know about precipitation (rain) and specifically, how is rain related to the summer in our area (Tucson)?"   I let this visual journey, Clouds in Tucson, assist them in getting started on the writing assignment.  I also ask some of the students to answer a third question, "Why do we study precipitation?  How could it be helpful to know when it's going to rain in our area?"  

Note:  I do not discuss the water cycle image (slide 1) until after they are done writing, though I do leave it up for a few minutes at the start.  Sometimes students will ask me if that's cheating and in return, I ask, "Why is it cheating to use a reference to remember something you've previously studied?"

Reading for Science

30 minutes

I have students go to this National Geographic page, which has a brief explanation of precipitation in its most common forms.  I assist them in annotating the text and taking specific notes about the most important details.  They also write questions.

I show students these short animations on Types of Rainfall.  In Tucson, our summers are distinguished not only by extremely high temperatures but also by what locals call "the monsoon" - a period of intense, short-duration thunderstorms.  As summer storms are typical in many locations throughout the United States, I chose to make them the lens through which students examine summer precipitation patterns for their location.  

This informative site shows different cloud types and has a matching game, and is a good choice for extension or for them to look at if you have a "choice time." Knowing the names of clouds now isn't nearly as critical as is developing their understanding of seasonal patterns w/clouds and later climate patterns. 


Guided Discussion

15 minutes

We look at this precipitation map for Arizona and discuss and take notes on what we observe for the past week and for June and July. I show them how to explore data for  the entire state and then also how to changing search parameters and look at weather for our region (city) for a day, a week or a month.  I ask them:

"What patterns do you see?"

"Are there areas of our city that receive more rain than other areas?  Why?"

"What were the greatest and least amounts of rain received in (month)?"

I then use this site (NOAA) to generate current and historical precipitation maps.


3 minutes

I ask students if they have specific questions about  precipitation or temperature (in the context of summer storms) that they'd like answered.  We record them on a chart and save them for tomorrow, when we will look at real data for these weather measurements.