UCAR Make a Thunderstorm

Contributor: UCAR Center for Science Education

Type Category: Instructional Materials

Types: Interactive Simulation

Note: This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Description

Students select varying amounts of heat and humidity in order to generate thunderstorms. Students develop an understanding of the atmospheric conditions that lead to thunderstorms, as well as those that will not. Application requires Adobe Flash Player and takes approximately 20 minutes. This activity is part of a middle-level weather curriculum published by UCAR, found at https://scied.ucar.edu/globe-weather-curriculum.

Intended Audience
Learner

Educational Level
Middle School
Grade 8
Grade 7
Grade 6

Language
English

Access Restrictions
Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectation

MS-ESS2-5  Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather conditions.

Clarification Statement:

Emphasis is on how air masses flow from regions of high pressure to low pressure, causing weather (defined by temperature, pressure, humidity, precipitation, and wind) at a fixed location to change over time, and how sudden changes in weather can result when different air masses collide. Emphasis is on how weather can be predicted within probabilistic ranges. Examples of data can be provided to students (such as weather maps, diagrams, and visualizations) or obtained through laboratory experiments (such as with condensation).

Assessment Boundary:

Assessment does not include recalling the names of cloud types or weather symbols used on weather maps or the reported diagrams from weather stations.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation

While students don’t collect actual data, this interactive simulation provides learners with an experience that will lead to greater understanding of how temperature and humidity interactions are related to the formation of thunderstorms, but does not discuss convection in much depth. The differences between higher elevation and surface air masses are modified, along with humidity, by the learner, in order to see which combination of conditions actually result in thunderstorm development. A printable student form for recording observations and explanations is available at https://scied.ucar.edu/sites/default/files/globewx/ls1_student_sheet_6.pdf. Learners should be aware of basic temperature differences based on elevation. An understanding of humidity is needed prior to the lesson. The activity Weather Lab, available at https://ngss.nsta.org/Resource.aspx?ResourceID=558 would be suggested related resource that is much more in-depth and could follow the introduction provided by this thunderstorm simulation.

Science and Engineering Practice

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice

Learners use the simulation to model the conditions that may or may not lead to thunderstorm development by predicting which selected conditions will create a storm. Learners use the model by varying temperatures in high and low air masses, as well as the overall humidity. Learners are attempting to predict the outcome by making adjustments in the values. The printable form provides space for students to record their ideas and observations while using the simulation may be used for student assessment

Disciplinary Core Idea

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea

The basic requirements for thunderstorm development, an important weather phenomenon, is demonstrated in this interactive simulation. The influence of certain conditions (temperature and humidity) are clearly shown in the graphics when students select them. Learners are provided low-level questions posted on the side of the screen with answers to explain movement of air masses in this context. Verbal responses to student selections are given, also providing context clues for additional understanding. The educator should point out the topography of the graphic background, as this is a relative factor in the location of storm formation. Showing a video clip of actual thunderstorm development is suggested. Air masses may be explored additionally at https://ngss.nsta.org/Resource.aspx?ResourceID=23. Additional, related interactives and information related to weather are available on the UCAR homepage https://scied.ucar.edu/resources

Crosscutting Concept

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept

Learners explore changing conditions that cause, or do not cause, thunderstorms. Learners should be directed to relate specific changes and the effects produced. This lesson should lead learners into deeper understanding of cause and effect relating to the movement of air masses, and the educator should encourage connections with other weather-related phenomena that are produced from observable causes, through discussion and additional examples, such as hurricanes. See https://scied.ucar.edu/make-hurricane.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Learners engage with the phenomenon of thunderstorms by modifying atmospheric conditions in order to create the largest storm possible. In order for learners to make sense of the phenomenon they must use all three dimensions of science learning, and this interactive introduces the concept rather than providing full development. Within this lesson learners must view and manipulate the model, responding with modifications to apply the Science and Engineering Practice of using models. The Disciplinary Core Idea: The Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes is directly related to this interactive simulation as the topic of thunderstorms is a water (humidity)-related weather phenomenon. Learners who have limited understanding of thunderstorm development will increase their understanding by manipulating storm-causing conditions. The Crosscutting Concept of Cause and Effect is addressed in this simulation when learners modify the conditions of temperature and humidity and then observe the effects on thunderstorm development. Learners should be familiar with cloud formation prior to using this simulation. Additional resources are https://scied.ucar.edu/shortcontent/how-clouds-form and https://scied.ucar.edu/activity/create-portable-cloud . This resource is best used as an introduction or reinforcement lesson for thunderstorm development. Learners should be familiar with cloud formation prior to using this simulation. Additional resources are https://scied.ucar.edu/shortcontent/how-clouds-form and https://scied.ucar.edu/activity/create-portable-cloud . This resource is best used as an introduction or reinforcement lesson for thunderstorm development.
  • Instructional Supports: Learners experience the phenomenon of thunderstorm development by observing the media representation of the interaction of air masses and humidity using different combinations. The simulation responds with verbal and on-screen text, encouraging the learner to consider other options. Learners do not make any individual statement of ideas, justify their choices, or respond to feedback beyond that of interacting with the simulation. While the simulation builds on learner experience there is limited visible or assessable progression. The three dimensions interact for the learning experience. Learners are provided with beginning focus questions and answers on the screen prior to beginning the simulation. The simulation is scientifically accurate and grade-appropriate. No specific differentiation is provided, however the text and graphics are accessible for all learners.
  • Monitoring Student Progress: The simulation assesses learner decisions, but not specifically 3-D learning. The simulation incorporates formative assessment only by applying the choices selected by the learner and responding to those choices. There is no scoring guidance. The task is unbiased providing the learner can read the text and interpret the graphics presented. ELL students may need support. The educator could use a written or verbal assessment of individual learning or conduct a class discussion where learners express their conclusions about what conditions are needed for thunderstorms to develop. UCAR has a student guide that will be available in 2019 as part of a middle level weather curriculum. This simulation may provide an experience that could serve as a basis for argument-driven science when learners respond to the statements of other learners, especially as a pre-assessment and then repeated as a post-assessment.
  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The object responds to student input, is directly related to learning, easy-to-use design, and had no technical challenges during operation.