Geography - Blow their minds

21st September 2012 at 01:00
Hurricanes whip up a storm of interest in extreme weather

There is no better saboteur of a primary school lesson than wild weather. Thunder cracks, snowstorms and heavy hail create a palpable sense of excitement that distracts and inspires at the same time. And sometimes the weather - particularly at this time of year - can change everything.

Twenty-five years ago, on 15 October 1987, a hurricane did just that. The storm in southern England was so powerful that 22 people died, 15 million trees were felled and hundreds of buildings were damaged.

But children thrive on extremes. And incorporating extreme weather - I call the topic "Drenched" - into a geography lesson where they had to consider how they would survive water-related disasters provided an opportunity for intense learning.

"Is the weather dangerous?" pupils were asked, before looking at the effects of hurricanes, floods and droughts. They had to consider that the first 72 hours after a disaster is critical for survival, before being split into three groups, each given a different terrain and weather extreme. They used geographical understanding of climate and territory to build survival plans, consider where they would find water, food and shelter and whether it would have been possible to prepare for these disasters.

We used seedlings to simulate some weather conditions, starving them of water, drenching them or blasting them with fans. Finally, we imagined what it would be like if such extremes hit our country. We found examples of flooding quite easily: everyone could describe a sunny day or a storm, but when I asked if Britain had ever been hit by a hurricane my class unanimously responded "No".

I then introduced that famous weather forecast (of Michael Fish, who failed to forecast the hurricane) and we looked at archived news reports about its devastating effect. Using three fans simultaneously blowing, we tried to experience the wind. We then discussed how hurricanes are formed.

Outside the classroom, we looked at some buildings in our neighbourhood, studied houses and trees and tried to imagine what impact a hurricane would have on us. Armed with their learning, the class planned, wrote and filmed a news report about a hurricane hitting our town. They called it "Hurricane Harold" and downloaded videos and graphics to build the report. It started with Michael Fish, explained how hurricanes are formed and concluded with a link to a "reporter" being blown madly about, surrounded by wildly flying leaves. Brilliant.

Chris Fenton is an associate headteacher and a publisher at Pearson Education.

WHAT ELSE?

Pupils become weather explorers with BrainPOP UK's wind activities. bit.lyworldwind

From floods to volcanoes, tsunamis to hurricanes, explore the natural disasters that strike our planet with resources from hopeful6. bit.lynaturaltrouble.

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