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6-8 > Weather
Grade level: 6-8 Subject: Weather Duration: Two class periods
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Students will understand the following:
1. The northernmost areas in Australia are characterized by a climate known as “tropical wet and dry.” The temperatures are always warm, with a six-month dry season and a long rainy season known as “the big wet.”
2. Other areas in the world have similar climates.

For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials on Australia, the tropics, and climate
Computer with Internet access
Map of Australia
World outline maps
Crayons or markers
Graph paper

1. This activity will focus students’ attention on one particular type of climate known as “tropical wet and dry,” as exemplified by the climate of northern Australia. To make sure students have the background information they will need before you begin the activity, ask the following questions, and either provide general answers or have students do research as necessary:
  1. What is the difference between climate and weather?
  2. How is climate influenced by geography, or location on the globe?
  3. How is climate influenced by landforms?
  4. What influence does climate have on plant and animal life?
  5. What influences does climate have on the lives of human beings?
2. Go on to explain that Earth’s climates are generally divided into 12 categories:
  1. Tropical wet (always hot, always wet)
  2. Tropical wet and dry (always hot with alternate wet and dry seasons; heavy precipitation in wet season)
  3. Highlands (cooler and wetter than lower-lying areas in same region)
  4. Desert (hot to cold with great changes in daily temperature; very little precipitation)
  5. Steppe (similar to desert, but with slightly more precipitation)
  6. Subtropical dry summer (hot, dry summer and rainy winter)
  7. Subtropical moist (warm to hot summer and cool winter with moderate precipitation all year)
  8. Oceanic moist (moderately warm summer and mild, cool winter with moderate precipitation all year)
  9. Continental moist (warm to cool summer and cold winter with moderate precipitation all year)
  10. Subarctic (short, cool summer and long, cold winter)
  11. Polar (always cold with a short, chilly summer; little precipitation all year)
  12. Icecap (always cold with precipitation always in the form of snow).
3. Show students a map of Australia, pointing out the northern part of the continent (approximately 125 to 150 degreeslongitude, just above the Tropic of Capricorn). Tell them that this is the part of the continent where the climate fits into the category “tropical wet and dry.” In Australia, the season of heavy precipitation is known as “the big wet.” You might also mention that there are five other climate types on the continent of Australia: steppe, desert, subtropical dry summer, subtropical moist, and oceanic moist. (Interested students can find out which parts of Australia have each type of climate.)
4. Divide the class into five research teams, giving each team one of the following research assignments:
  1. Describe in detail a tropical wet and dry climate.
  2. On an outline map, identify the areas of Australia and other parts of the world characterized by a tropical wet and dry climate.
  3. For northern Australia and an area lying north of the equator, graph the average number of inches of precipitation over the period of one year.
  4. Describe the plant and animal life of northern Australia.
  5. Describe the activities of people in northern Australia.
5. Have each group present its findings to the class. Then hold a class discussion in which you guide students to synthesize the information presented by each research team.
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Have individual students indicate, on an outline world map, where all 12 of Earth’s climate types are found.
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Discussion Questions

1. Explain how the biological clocks of certain organisms are influenced by the alternating wet/dry season.
2. Trace the movement of nitrogen from the atmosphere to the animal and plant community.
3. Trace the movement of a water molecule from the moment it leaves the ocean until it eventually enters a plant root, and then makes it way back to the ocean.
4. “The Big Wet” documents some radically different climates over the course of the year in northern Australia. Discuss the factors that influence climate in general, and in particular cause Australia’s dramatic changes.
5. Discuss how the location of Australia (latitude), air currents, ocean currents, variations in elevation, and mountains affect rainfall patterns.
6. Discuss similarities and differences between your location and the general description of the climate and environment presented in the documentary.
7. Discuss the importance of floods to life in the floodplain, billabongs and marshes.
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You can evaluate your students on their research assignments and presentations using the following three-point rubric:
Three points:all information accurate; information presented reflects thorough research; presentation lively and well organized
Two points:most information accurate; information presented reflects adequate research; presentation flat, but satisfactorily organized
One point:significant inaccuracies; research inadequate; presentation flat and lacking in organization
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining criteria for thorough research.
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Water the Consequences?
Ask your students to imagine that they are living “down under” (in Australia). Have them create a multidisciplinary group of experts (e.g., fish ecologists, invertebrate ecologists, botanists, and geologists) to make recommendations to water resource managers concerning the isolation of rivers from their floodplain by levees for flood control. “Experts” should consider five ecosystem components—fish, trees, aquatic plants, invertebrates, and geomorphology. They will need to investigate the organisms of the ecosystem to be able to explain the consequences of the proposed land use.

Field the Stream
With your students, set up a field study of a local stream. Students should formulate a plan ahead of time and work in small groups, collecting physical as well as biological data. They should check out the local history of the area and find out if the stream floods during certain seasons. They should also determine what impact flooding patterns have on the stream and the ecosystem of the stream bank. (The Isaak Walton League of America’s “Save Our Streams” program has a stream assessment data sheet already prepared.)

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Suggested Readings

“Implications of Climate Change Due to the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect on Floods and Droughts in Australia”
P.H. Whetton, A.M. Haylock, and M.R. Pittock. Climatic Change, December 1993
Exactly how the greenhouse effect exacerbates the drought and rainfall cycle of the Australian region is demonstrated in a simulated weather circulation model.

Environment Australia Online
This Web site, a project of the Australian government’s “Environment Portfolio,” covers all aspects of the unique properties of Australia’s environment, national priorities and legislation, and “State of the Environment” online reports.

Hydrology of Disasters
Vijay P. Singh. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1996
This volume of the publisher’s “Water Science and Technology Library” is an illustrated exploration of floods as both the cause and effect of various types of natural disasters.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    monsoon
Definition:The season of the southwest monsoon in India and adjacent areas that is characterized by very heavy rainfall.
Context:But the monsoon is still two months away.

speaker    floodplain
Definition:Level land that may be submerged by floodwaters.
Context:Behind the floodplain to the south is the boundary of an older Australia.

speaker    escarpment
Definition:A long cliff or steep slope separating two comparatively level surfaces and resulting from erosion or faulting.
Context:Its moisture condenses into a cloud and thunderheads begin to rise above the escarpment.

speaker    wetland
Definition:A lowland area, such as a marsh or swamp, saturated with moisture.
Context:New growth is scattered throughout the wetlands.

speaker    dormant
Definition:Marked by a suspension of activity.
Context:They will spiral into the soil and remain dormant until the first rains of October.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:6-8
Subject area:Earth science
Understands basic features of the Earth.
Knows the processes involved in the water cycle (e.g., evaporation, condensation, precipitation, surface runoff, percolation) and their effects on climatic patterns.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:Earth science
Understands basic features of the Earth.
Knows how winds and ocean currents are produced on the Earth’s surface (e.g., effects of unequal heating of the Earth’s land masses, oceans, and air by the Sun; effects of gravitational forces acting on layers of different temperatures and densities in the oceans and air; effects of the rotation of the Earth).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:Earth science
Understands basic Earth processes.
Knows that elements exist in fixed amounts and move through the solid Earth, oceans, atmosphere, and living things as part of geochemical cycles (e.g., carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle).

Grade level:6-8
Subject area:life science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Knows factors that affect the number and types of organisms an ecosystem can support (e.g., available resources; abiotic factors such as quantity of light and water, range of temperatures, and soil composition; disease; competition from other organisms within the ecosystem; predation).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:life science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Knows how the interrelationships and interdependencies among organisms generate stable ecosystems that fluctuate around a state of rough equilibrium for hundreds or thousands of years (e.g., growth of a population is held in check by environmental factors such as depletion of food or nesting sites, increased loss due to larger numbers of predators or parasites).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:life science
Understands the cycling of matter and flow of energy through the living environment.
Knows how the amount of life an environment can support is limited by the availability of matter and energy and the ability of the ecosystem to recycle materials.

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