Weather watchers

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
John Stringer suggests ideas for the Sky News Weather Challenge

Had any unusual weather this year? The news is full of it. From floods in Cornwall to hurricanes in the Caribbean, the world seems to be experiencing a period of wild, unpredictable weather. But how has it affected you and your school? Weather gets little overt mention in the KS2 national curriculum for England - but there it is in geography, in its impact on places and people.

The Sky News Weather Challenge invites children to create a poster illustrating the impact of weather, perhaps on them and the place where they live (see back page for details of prizes and how to enter). Children might like to focus on a particular event: what's going on in your school this week, this term, this year? What are the children's expectations? What does past experience suggest? Are there records - eg in the school newsletters or the logbook? "Sports day rained off?" "Christmas concert held despite freezing fog?"

Weather has always had an impact on primary school pupils. Whether it's wet Wellie boots in the cloakroom, red faces sitting by a sunny window, or the wild excitement that follows high winds, children - even those dropped off by car at the school gate - are more sensitive to weather variation than adults.

Explore ways in which changing weather might affect events. Discover the origins of weather patterns, and how they are forecast. How many different ways can you find out what weather to expect? Apart from radio and TV, you can use the internet, a phone or fax service, speak to a knowledgeable local person, or use your own forecasting equipment. Keep a record for a week. Which is most accurate? You might compare your local weather with other parts of the UK, and how children's experiences and activities contrast with yours.

There are practical ways to predict, measure and record the weather. You can buy rain gauges and weather vanes, or tap a barometer. But making the instruments adds to the understanding, and teaches the discipline of regular recording and looking for trends. There are some traditional and unusual ways of weather forecasting, too. What does a red sky forecast? Does it matter if the cows are standing up? Why is the seaweed dry? And if you are miles from a cow or the sea, how are you able to predict what tomorrow may bring?

You might take an international line on weather patterns. Without the rains in Sierra Leone, people there will have no crops and no food. Or cut the world - an apple - into four. Three of the pieces are covered in sea. Cut the last quarter in half. One piece - an eighth - is land where people don't live. Cut the other eighth into four. On three of these, the ground is too rocky, cold, wet, dry or steep to grow food plants. Now peel the last little slice. That's the soil on which the whole Earth depends for food. How is it affected by strong winds, fierce sunlight or heavy rain?

Remember that a poster is not a book on the wall. Posters are about images - and powerful, well-chosen images will carry your message better than a wealth of text. An original image, taken on a digital camera - children running from the rain, or a published image - a woman irrigating the baked earth in Africa, can be supported by the children's discoveries. A well-crafted title will catch the eye. Bullet pointing is effective, or "Do you know?" panels to engage the viewer. It helps to imagine someone looking at the poster for the first time: "What's that picture? What's it all about? Well, I never knew that..."

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