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Weather? Volcanoes? Data unveil patterns in science

Patterns become relevant by looking outside

Kentwood  From graphing August to February’s downward trend in temperatures to tracking where volcanoes erupt all over the world, fourth-graders at Southwood Elementary School are eyeing patterns and making observations.

Studying patterns helps in learning science, math, reading and connecting dots between subjects, said teacher Maureen Kaczanowski, as her students worked in pairs at their desks to graph volcanoes such as Kilauea in Hawaii, and Mammoth Mountain in Mono County, California. X- and Y-axis points unveiled a common occurrence, and fourth-grader Cayden Lopshire commented on the pattern.

“A lot of them are on the edges of tectonic plates,” said Cayden, as his classmates used their index fingers to follow the dots of eruptions down the edge of South America on their worksheets.

Increasing Relevance

Students have learned about volcanoes in previous years while studying patterns as part of fourth-grade science standards. But it wasn’t relevant enough,  Kaczanowksi said, so this year she added a weather project that spans the whole year.

“Volcanoes aren’t things kids in Michigan can relate to, really. They are cool, but they can’t really relate to them. We decided that bringing weather in would help us with understanding patterns,” she said.

So, after the volcano graphing activity, Kaczanowski seamlessly began the daily lesson on weather, while students examined the temperatures they’ve been tracking all school year long, explained current class meteorologists, Kaleb Rubante and Olivia Daniels. 

Each day, they check the outdoor thermometer, and sometimes head outside to measure snow – “I’ve gotten to 17 inches!” said Olivia.  Then they head to a big calendar to jot down the temperature and the weather conditions.

Southwood received a grant from Bosch for materials and tools to establish the weather station, including anemometers (for measuring wind speed), barometers, thermometers and books about weather and weather-related careers.

Students regularly chart the daily temps on graphs displayed on the wall, which now show a zig-zaggy dip from August’s steamy days in the 80s and 90s, to January’s frigid readings in the teens. By the end of the school year, students will see how temperatures creep back up. 

The goal is for students to look at patterns in data they collect and learn how to make conclusions and predictions from them, Kaczanowski said.

“I’ve noticed that it can get very cold,” said Kaleb. He also realized something often observed by Michiganders. “I’ve noticed it can go really high one day and the next day it’s really, really cold.”

“I’ve noticed the snow can get very deep,” added Olivia.

Kaczanowski plans to also have her students use rain gauges, study moon phases and build solar cars. 

After her class collects data annually, they will have years worth of graphs to compare patterns over time. Kaleb thinks that’s exciting and plans to check things out next year when he’s a fifth-grader. 

“I would like to see how the weather changes from September of this year to next year. We do go out for recess this way, so I will probably stop and look.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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