It started out simple enough but ended up becoming so much more. During his visit to my classroom at the end of January, my second graders presented a penguin kite to Dr. Jim McClintock. They also had a request. Could the kite be flown over Palmer Station, Antarctica during his research trip? They were excited to hear Dr. McClintock promise that he would fly their kite and email them a photo.
The kite photo arrived and brought with it a "teachable moment." Dr. McClintock mentioned the kite was flown when the wind was gusting at 11 knots. "What are ‘wind knots'?" my seven and eight year olds asked. Our research to answer that question set into motion our study of weather.
My second graders enthusiastically absorbed all they could about weather in Birmingham and weather at Palmer Station as they daily checked the weather forecasts on the Internet. Using some materials from our Foss Air and Weather Science Kit, students carefully kept weather journals comparing the weather at the two places. A rain gauge and a simple anemometer were constructed by the students as they became knowledgeable about weather instruments. They also learned that knots are the unit of wind measurement given on weather charts and for water navigation, but knots are usually expressed as miles per hour on land to the general public (1.00 knot equals 1.15 miles per hour). Recess found the kids staring at clouds as they tried to predict the weather. Interest soared when the boys and girls read Chuck's "Stormy Weather" story and viewed photos Maggie took of Chuck and Jim at the Palmer weather station.
Further research by the students turned up some interesting Antarctic weather facts. Antarctica holds several records as the highest, driest, coldest, and windiest place on earth. The coldest temperature recorded in Antarctica was -129 degrees F. at Russia's Vostok Station in 1983. The highest wind speed recorded was 198.8 mph at Australia's Mawson Station. Blizzards typically produce little, if any, new snow. Instead, snow is picked up and blown along the surface by wind producing blinding conditions and making objects invisible only a short distance away. This is known as a "white out" to those working in Antarctica. While these facts are extremes in Antarctic weather, my students soon realized that scientists and others working in Antarctica must make extensive preparations and carefully monitor the weather conditions to work safely in this harsh environment.
I suspect the students' interest in weather in Birmingham and Antarctica may continue for quite some time. I do know they are waiting for just the right "wind knots" in Birmingham's forecast so they can fly high their identical penguin kite and email a photo to Dr. McClintock.