Monday, January 27, 2014

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I'd like a spring forecast

This polar vortex phenomenon is getting a little old. The week ahead here in Knoxville includes below-freezing temperatures and some six-sided precipitation. However, we're in luck, possibly: February 2nd is approaching, the day when the world (or at least the US) eagerly awaits the long-term forecast by that cute meteorologist, Punxsutawney Phil. He even has his own website now, complete with some teacher resources (not much in the way of science, though). Having graduated from the University of Dallas where Groundhog Day is fanatically celebrated by students and alumni across the country, I can hardly wait to make a toast to Phil and cheer for the weather forecast he'll provide at 7:25 am on Sunday, especially if he does not see his shadow.

If you are looking for some resources to prepare for Groundhog Day, here are some ideas. A narrative non-fiction resource is Gail Gibbon's 2007 book Groundhog Day! In addition to the historical background about Groundhog Day, Gibbons' book also includes information about the physical attributes and burrow formations of groundhogs. The final page of this primary level book is entitled "Digging up groundhog facts"and contains additional interesting information. Cartoonish drawings of humans are coupled with some more realistic depictions of groundhogs, though still with an impressionistic aspect. You can download a teacher resource book for Gail Gibbons' books here.

Another choice for sharing the fun and science of groundhogs and weather predictions is Groundhog Weather School by Joan Holub. You might recognize her name from our blog post about cloud books - she is one of the authors of The Man Who Named the Clouds. If you have an older version of this book, the cover will be different - it was reprinted in 2013.  This book has a mix of story elements and factual information, making it both entertaining and informative. I am not usually an advocate of books with talking animals, but in this case, there are enough non-fiction aspects to make it worth including in a science/literacy lesson. A checklist of characteristics (such as mammal, live in burrow, rodent, herbivore) determines who gets into Groundhog Weather School, and other organisms which exhibit weather-related behavior such as honey bees and cows are described. Brief depictions of famous scientists associated with weather (such as Luke Howard  and Snowflake Bentley) are profiled. Due to the cartoon-style bubbles of text from the characters, this may be better as an independent read as opposed to a read-aloud, though you could certainly channel your inner Hollywood star to read in different voices. The final page includes historical information about Groundhog Day and a labeled drawing of a groundhog.

For science activities related to measuring shadows, you can find ideas from Scholastic  and Exploratorium. For a long-term project, consider having students measure their shadows once a week in the same spot around the same time from now until the end of the school year. They can graph the data to infer what causes the differences in the weekly measurements.

Whether you spend February 2nd watching Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, watching the Super Bowl or Puppy Bowl, or celebrating Groundhog Day with friends, we hope you enjoy this weather-based holiday!

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