Teaching about the weather can be a little overwhelming, for students and teachers. There are several interconnected concepts that students should know to understand it. Here are just a few examples: In which layer of the atmosphere does the weather occur? How does the Earth’s rotation affect the weather? What are air masses? How are air masses related to weather fronts? How many types of weather fronts are there? What are isobars? How does temperature affect relative humidity?… and I could go on… and on.
It is a lot. Imagine trying to teach these concepts separately to students. What’s the most effective way to do it? Lecture? Labs? Projects? Posters? I’ve done all of these. Each with varying degrees of success. And honestly, doing straight lectures was the most exhausting and least effective in my experience. But with labs and projects, I still wanted to make sure they learned a wider variety of concepts and understood how those concepts were interconnected. So I tried something new. I asked my students to gamify the weather.
Start With What They Know
I encouraged my students to start with games they love playing. Why? They know the rules. They understand how the games should flow. They generally know how long the game will take to play. They know how many players can take part in it. Most importantly, they can use this prior knowledge to adapt it and teach their peers about the weather. So this was my challenge to my students: You like monopoly (Candy Land, Sorry!, Jenga)? Great! Now how can you modify it to teach your peers about the weather?
Provide A Guide
I adapted this template from a resource my colleague Jessica Cavallaro shared with me. The students used it as a guide to keep on track as they developed their weather games. Almost like a checklist, this table helped them identify the following key components of their games: (1) the number of players; (2) its difficulty level; (3) the game rules; (4) how players move through the game; (5) components of the game- trivia cards, game pieces, etc.; and (7) the “big ideas” that they want players to learn. Design thinking can be overwhelming. This checklist served as a reminder of how their final game would be evaluated as they worked through the process of creating it.
Let Them Tinker And Create
This is the challenging part. The students worked in groups to create the games. There were lots of ideas being floated among team members about how to do that. Not all ideas were good. Not all ideas could be used. As their facilitator, did I make any decisions for them? Absolutely not. They had to learn to communicate effectively and respectfully during this process, which included quick prototyping, finding flaws, and making necessary adaptations and improvements. They had to be honest about which ideas were the best for reaching the team objectives for the game. Was it easy for all groups? No. But their reflections revealed what knowledge and skills they learned through this process. Those are discussed further below.
Content Support Through Mini Lessons
As teachers, we love sharing what we know, but our students don’t want us to share it with them all at one time. And honestly, not all students are ready to hear a lecture from you at the time that you give it! So, I give mini-lessons. Some are live, but most are pre-recorded videos (usually 5-7 minutes) that give my students nuggets of information about a concept they need to know. Here’s an example of one I used for this unit. Notice it does not give them all the information they need to know about the weather. It gives them a chunk of information that will lead them on the path to do more research about the topic. Additionally, once they have watched the mini-lesson, I can walk around the room answering questions and doing quick assessments of what knowledge gaps are present.
Let Them Play
The students created the games. They are eager to play them. So, let them play! You can carve out play time as you see fit, according to your school schedule. I was lucky enough to give the students the entire class period to play each other’s games. They played a game of their choice for 10-15 minutes and then I directed them to switch to another team’s game. We were easily able to get 4 rotations of playtime in our block period. If you’re not on block scheduling, this time will vary.
Don’t Forget To Reflect
For me, reflection is an important assessment tool. When I evaluate activities, projects, labs… games, I’m looking at it through a teacher's lens. It’s a whole new world when you ask your students to share and evaluate their experiences in the process. Here are a few reasons why. First, students are brutally honest about how they have performed. They own up to being off task, to being frustrated, and of course, doing a job well done. In addition, they are not fearful of providing constructive feedback to their peers- given the right setting. Encourage them to give feedback free of retaliation. Model it yourself by soliciting honest feedback about what you do as well, especially suggestions for improvement. My students reflected on the spot while playing the games and then formally in writing. Both were important. Commenting while playing the games provided real-time feedback to the game creators. The formal written reflection was submitted to me and allowed them to reflect on their own games, make comparisons to other games they played, and reflect on the entire process as a whole regarding how much they were able to learn.
Give up control to your students. They can handle it. They will grapple with the challenge, fail at points along the way, and then amaze you with what they produce.
Scaffolding is important. Balancing content versus skills acquisition is an artform. No one is successful at it every time, so when you fail, don’t give up. Give your students small chunks of content at a time. This will empower them to build their own learning path of content and build skills that are transferable beyond your classroom.
Reflection is the key to growth. Encourage it. Model it. Make it a part of each unit you teach, if you can. When you do this, they will follow your example. As a result, you can create a classroom of collaboration and communication that fosters continuous innovation and improvement.