I show students this short animation of the seasons to help them start to grasp why different latitudes receive different amounts of light in the different seasons.
Students also need to understand that both the strength of the solar radiation and the amount of daylight contribute to the temperature. This is a more technical animation that does a better job of showing amounts of solar radiation, but they may be confused by the fact that the rotation speed isn't as fast as it would be in real life.
I explain to students that today they will repeat what we did yesterday using two locations that they chose on their own. They need to pick a location in a more northern region of the United States and one in the south so we can compare weather patterns. One student chose Flagstaff, Arizona as their northern climate locale and Puerto Rico as their south, which demonstrates his understanding that both latitude and altitude interact to create local and regional climate zones.
To find their location they used both the pull-down map of the United States we have in our classroom and Google Maps to pick more specific cities. A few of them ran into difficulty when the town they picked in a given state (Montana for example) didn’t show up on timeanddate.com (the site they use for the weather data) but this situation was rectified by them agreeing to choose a larger city or town as close as possible to the one they selected.
I give them about 15 minutes to choose their locations and set up the high and low temps table.
It is valuable to let them navigate the maps and making observations about different locations. The table remains the same – they enter the past 7 days in a column down the left side of their paper, and then record high and low for each locale.
The joy of third grade is that as crunched as we are by testing and other constraints, the new standards allow us the wiggle room to delve more deeply into the standards. I ensure opportunities to do this by integrating my science with math or ELA. This activity is worth repeating, in its independent practice incarnation, because the learning potential is extremely high. The more examples they see of how climate is represented through regional weather, the more likely they are to be able to integrate this system of knowledge into the complex problems they will be facing with climate as adults.
As we conclude this lesson, I ask them to explain, either verbally with a partner or in writing, what they are observing about seasonal weather systems and how they affect different climates. The main takeaway is, of course, that winter is cooler than summer in all climates in the United States, when weather is looked at in aggregate, not isolation.