Current Science Classroom
The Science Teacher—September 2019 (Volume 87, Issue 1)
By Chris Anderson
Science and current events
Few weather events can capture the nation’s attention like a hurricane. The world’s most powerful storms can pummel island nations and coastlines, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. And as our planet and its oceans continue to warm, these natural disasters could become even more devastating.
No matter what grade or subject you teach, watching a report or reading an article on a developing or raging hurricane is a great way to engage students in current science. We’ve posted a few articles on different storms over the years on Science Over Everything, explaining how hurricanes form, what has made them so destructive and pairing each post with an article guide to help with reading comprehension and facilitate classroom discussion. Use the news cycle to your advantage!
How else can you spin hurricanes into your lessons? The most obvious classroom connection is with weather and climate, specifically in middle school or later after students have learned concepts such as precipitation, pressure systems, fronts, and seasons. NOAA has a hurricane simulator where students can explore changing variables such as moisture, wind speed, wind shear, atmospheric pressure, and latitude where the hurricane forms until they make the strongest storm.
NOAA has a number of resources including a hurricane tracking lesson, where students take historical data from hurricanes and plot their strength and location on a map. You could then track current storm data from the National Hurricane Center and compare it to historically damaging storms or other storms from that season. If you feel crunched for time or if you’d like to make your lesson cross-curricular, partner with a math teacher and have the students crunch and graph the data they collect in math class.
The hydrologic cycle is another easy application for hurricanes. The South Coast Science Project, part of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has a great hands-on lesson plan using things like a clear box, plastic wrap, rocks, and a heat lamp to re-create the water cycle. Dig even deeper by having student groups heat the water in their system to different temperatures and measure the differences in condensation produced. Students could also measure how much moisture different air temperatures can hold, a key factor in how strong hurricanes can become. Don’t have a psychrometer? No problem! You can make one with two thermometers, some cotton balls, and a string. Literally science on a string!
But weather and climate isn’t the only place where hurricanes could be discussed. Environmental science students can do any of the above activities while learning about more advanced aspects of the water cycle as well as the human impact on our geochemical processes. Teachers who are looking for long-term PBL applications could consider building storm mitigation infrastructures, such as living shorelines or natural drainage systems, either in the community or on school property. A project of this scope would likely take months of planning and grant support, but it would get the public engaged in your school and build unforgettable real-
world connections for your students.
Chemistry class is another great intersection where kids can explore how and why warmer air can dissolve more water or measure the specific heat of the water to calculate how much energy a hurricane has based on the amount of water and the temperature in the storm. Calorimeters are easy and cheap to build with just a coffee cup, lid, and a thermometer. Physics and physical science students shouldn’t miss out on the fun either—fluid dynamics, vacuums and pressure systems can all be discussed!
Whatever you do, don’t overlook the human element in these storms. Hurricanes can ruin or take lives and kids may know someone affected by storms both past and present. Be compassionate with your students as you talk about this topic that we will no doubt see more of as our planet continues to warm.
Science Over Everything on hurricanes: https://bit.ly/2YkLLw6, https://bit.ly/30RNFSg
NOAA hurricane simulator: www.nhc.noaa.gov/outreach/games/canelab.htm
NOAA resources: https://bit.ly/2WPrKtk
Hurricane tracking lesson: https://bit.ly/32QeuID
Hurricane tracking map: www.nhc.noaa.gov/pdf/tracking_chart_atlantic.pdf
National Hurricane Center: www.nhc.noaa.gov/
South Coast Science Project lesson plan: https://bit.ly/2Z8cl8z
Air temperature and moisture: https://bit.ly/2LDRDdR
Living shorelines: https://bit.ly/2JMVD9N
Natural drainage systems: https://bit.ly/2SxMaps
Specific heat of water: https://bit.ly/2VHZV8Y
Chris Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org; @TheScienceJedi) is a science instructional coach for the Hamilton County ESC.
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