A science lesson is one of the most exciting times to observe an elementary school classroom. During science, you can see that students are engaged with each other, standing on their feet solving problems, testing theories, sharing what they learned, and making plans to learn more.
Research suggests that students have large knowledge gaps in science and that these gaps persist throughout elementary school into middle school. For example, students entering third grade are expected to know the names of the seasons and basic season characteristics so that they can begin focusing on the Earth’s orbit, weather, and climates.
However, it is not unusual to find that some students don’t know the names of the seasons, can’t sequence the order of the seasons, and don’t know the names of the states or continents so that they can study the weather and climates.
With the right planning each semester of the school year, I was able to reconnect my students to previously learned content and new content, building a solid foundation. Therefore, they were able to engage in grade-level content and were prepared for the next level.
assessing prior knowledge
In order to prepare students for success, science lesson plans should scaffold and integrate some of the previous year’s content into the new grade-level curriculum. Teachers can’t assume that students have background knowledge or remember the previous year’s content.
I used these questions for pre- and post-assessment to help create lesson plans and objectives:
- Can you name the four seasons?
- What is your favorite season?
- In what season were you born?
- Why do seasons change?
- What do you know about the seasons and the hemispheres?
- What words would you use to describe the weather?
- Do you know the names of the continents and where they are on the globe?
weather and seasons activities
1. The Seasons Walk: I created a seasonal walk plan and calendar. To create a plan like this, schedule at least two walks each season to observe the seasons’ changes. The first walk should occur on the first day of the season. Consider a rubric that promotes observations and encourages feedback from the students. The walk can include a scavenger hunt or weather check. This can also be an art project where they gather seasonal artifacts or a math lesson where they analyze data. You can invite parents or other members of the school to volunteer to help manage the walk.
2. Students’ Seasons Birthday Calendar: For this activity, the class creates a large classroom seasonal birthday wall calendar. Each student makes their own birthday plaque to reflect their personality and interest. They place the plaque on the wall calendar under the correct season. This visual personalizes the seasons. It can also turn into a math lesson where students average the number of birthdays across the season. Encourage students to create their own family birthday season calendar.
3. Classroom Seasons Word Wall: Students learn seasonal vocabulary as part of reading, writing, science, and creating a word or sentence wall or mural of usual and unusual words for each of the seasons. Throughout the school years, the word wall or mural can be used to depict the seasons through art projects.
4. Hemisphere Seasons Hunt: For this activity, students use a globe and a model of the sun to learn about the hemispheres and how seasons differ in each hemisphere. For example, when it is summer in the United States, it is winter in Australia. Make a game by creating two sets of game cards. One set of cards is the seasons, and the other has two locations on it, and students guess the season for each place and its hemisphere location.
5. U.S. Seasons and Weather Watch: At the start of the school year, group students into teams and assign them a United States region. Ask the teams to monitor the start of each season in their region using a chart. As one season ends and another begins, ask them to predict what their region’s season might look like, and then compare things like rain and snowfall over all the seasons.
Students may also be asked to report once a month on their seasons. Encourage them to be creative in how they report on the seasons, such as using costumes, weather graphs, PowerPoint slides, pictures, maps, etc. These activities cross over into English language arts and geography.
6. Community Seasons: Consider reaching out to a classroom teacher friend or family member from another part of the state or another state to become a “seasons” pen pal for your classroom. Provide your students with a calendar, and have them chart the seasons for your community and their pen pal‘s community. Students chart temperatures, types of clothing worn, activities engaged in, etc. This can be integrated into ELA and geography.
7. Seasonal Weather: The weather offers so many opportunities for teaching students about the seasons through charting, analysis, and reflections. Students can chart the weather for the first week of each month and then analyze how it changes each month and within the season. (This was always a morning hit with my second and third graders. They loved being able to look at their community from a different perspective and always found something new to question.) Why did the weather change so quickly at the beginning of winter?
8. Climate vs. Weather: In this activity, students learn the difference between weather and climate and incorporate the two into models and murals that explore climate change. Students travel around the globe by creating different climate types (tropical, dry, temperate, continental, and polar) in the classroom. Exploring books and documentaries helps them think critically and draw their own conclusions. They read books about climate change written by youth and form their own opinions about climate change.
As I set out to make sure that students understood the science behind seasons, my goal was to ensure that they knew that seasons were more than leaves in autumn, snow in winter, heat in summer, and flowers in spring. I hoped they would learn that seasons represent a variety of weather conditions, changes in human behaviors and the environment, and seasonal activities. As students explored the science of the seasons through language arts, geography, history, and math, collecting data and exploring different parts of the world, they built the confidence necessary to transition into their grade-level schoolwork.