Why Study Weather?

74 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT discuss current debates about solutions to global warming in a Socratic Seminar.

Big Idea

Why study weather? The app on my phone tells me everything I need to know!

The Need for the Lesson

When we introduce the unit about weather and climate, the question on students' mind is why do we have to learn about weather and climate – don’t I have an app on my phone for that?

I think that is a great question.

Weather and climate are becoming increasing complicated and controversial issues. There is debate over whether of not climate change is real for instance. 

Today's students need to know and understand the weather and climate on this planet so they can make informed decisions as adults.

Investigation Preparation & Summary

10 minutes

This lesson is a Socratic Seminar designed to engage students in scientific discourse about weather and climate. First students will watch a short video that explains global warming. (MS-ESS3-5 Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.) Next students will watch two videos explaining inventions that were designed for human to take an active role in change this planet's climate and weather. (MS-ESS3-3 Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.) Students will examine, through a video and image, how when corrections are made to human behavior, nature begins to respond by rebuilding what was destroyed without human intervention (MS-ESS2-5 Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather conditions.)

As students evaluate the information presented in the videos they are analyzing and interpreting the data presented and preparing for the socratic seminar. (SP4 - Analyzing and interpreting data) (SP7 - Engaging in argument from evidence)

Before class starts, I move the lab tables to the perimeter of the room and place the student chairs in a circle.

To request to speak in this Socratic Seminar, I provide students with three small sheets of bright green paper. The students will wad up the paper and toss it into the center of the circle indicating that they wish to speak. I use paper because it is easy to clean-up. Also small pieces of paper cannot become harmful projectiles if students overshoot the center of the circle.

Students in Action

45 minutes

Students in Action

I tell students today you will participate in a Socratic seminar. The goal of a socratic seminar is to help one another understand the topic for discussion. It is a discussion not a debate. You are a seeker of knowledge and understanding.

We are about to begin a unit on weather and climate. Your discussion today will help me design a better lesson for you.

I ask students, "How many of you have heard about global warming?".  Everyone raises their hands.

I tell students that there are two extreme sides to global warming; some say that the climate of our planet is cyclical. There is evidence in the fossil record that shows the planet has experienced overall warming and cooling in the past. Others say that what we are experiencing now is the direct result of human activity. This global warming is not part of a natural cycle but caused directly by the use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are coal, oil, or natural gas. As adults, you may be faced with some decisions about what you, as citizens of this planet, need to do in order to be good stewards. I am going to share with you a few short videos highlighting some ideas about weather/climate and nature that you will be asked to discuss. First – Global Warming 101 from National Geographic. 


I explain to students that next I am going to show you a short video about a new invention designed to cool our planet.

I ask students - "Have you ever heard of Nathan Myhrvold? No one has. I say that Nathan Myhrvold is probably the most famous person you have never heard of. He was the cofounder of Microsoft along with Bill Gates. You have heard of Bill Gates right? Students all nod in agreement. Nathan Myhrvold was the chief technology officier at Microsoft. Bill Gates says Nathan Myhrvold is one of the smartest men he knows. In fact he started college at age 14. Nathan founded a company called Intellectual Ventures and they have an idea to cool the planet.

I need to share a little background before I show you the invention. In 1992 Mt Pinatubo erupted in the Phillipines. The volcano spewed sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. The sulfur dioxide caused a general cooling of our planet – as much as ½ to 1 degree depending on the location.

With that in mind here is Intellectual Ventures idea to cool the planet.

In the global warming video, the narrator mentioned that global warming may create an increase in the number of hurricanes.

Intellectual ventures as another idea to change the impact of hurricanes. In general hurricanes become powerful when they have warm ocean water as fuel. Powerful hurricanes that make landfall do a lot of damage to the increasingly populous areas near the coast.

Here is a solution proposed by Intellectual Ventures.


Intellectual Ventures is not alone in their thinking that we need to take an active role in controlling the weather and climate on our planet.

There are opposing points of view.

In the 1950s we noticed a change in the ozone layer. It was decreasing. You know the ozone layer is a shield that protects us from harmful rays from the Sun.

Here is a video update on the status of the ozone layer.

As you learned, once we stopped creating the problem, it appears that the atmosphere has begun to heal itself.

In 1980 Mt St Helens erupted. It was the largest volcanic eruption in the United States in about a century. The flora and fauna was devastated.

Scientist decided they would not take an active role in helping Mt. St. Helens recover from the eruption but would step back and observe nature.

Here are before and after aerial photos. After more than 30 years Mt. St Helens has recovered nicely without human intervention. 


USGS / NASA photograph of Mt. St. Helens Recovery


So why study weather and climate?

As concerned citizens of this planet, you may have to answer the question – do we take an active role and reverse what has been done by the generations before us? Or do we stop the damage and let nature heal our planet?

Take a few minutes to reflect upon this question and the information you learned today by doing a free write. Write down any thoughts and questions that come to mind.  In a few minutes you will use these notes and thoughts in our Socratic discussion.

Purpose of the Free Write

Students take a few minutes to organize their own thoughts. It is a time for metacognition - what do I know, how do I know it and how do I express what I know to others. Students also have time to become comfortable with their own thoughts. With this comfort they are not as likely to simply agree with their friends but be confident that they have a valid contribution to the discussion.

The rules for this Socratic Seminar

Talk to each other, I will not be participating.

You will use your tokens, the three paper wads to request the floor to speak. Choose your time to speak wisely.

If more than one person requests to speak at the same time – use silent signals to determine who will speak first.

You must use all of your tokens.

You may make statements or ask clarifying questions.

Please refrain from direct criticism, seek instead to better understand another point of view. 

Student begin talking. At first some are looking at me when they speak. I begin writing notes from student comments and do not make eye-contact with students. The idea is that students need to be talking to each other. I am not an active participant in their group.

The conversation is rich. This is changing my plans for the weather unit! Check out the video to see where we are going next.

Connecting the Learning

We ran out of time before I could ask students to reflect on the use of the Socratic Seminar.

I did speak with students briefly as they were leaving the room. I asked if they enjoyed the Socratic Seminar. Every student I asked indicated that they liked the idea of discussing with their classmates current events.