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It's Cold Out There! - Math/Science for grades 3-5

In this activity, students will learn about the main factors that influence temperatures in Antarctica. Students will use this information to predict where the coldest temperature ever recorded occurred. They will also record the temperature at Palmer Station in Antarctica, compare the temperature to a location in the United States and to the area where they live, and plot them on a graph.

Learning Objectives: Students will be able to place, compile, read and interpret information on graphs. Students will be able to describe, interpret and apply data regarding weather conditions in Antarctica.

1. Ask students to predict the lowest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica. Write the responses on the board, and ask the class to vote for the one they think is the closest guess.
Answer: The coldest recorded temperature was -128.6 F on July 21,1983.

2. Show students a map of Antarctica and ask them to think of reasons why Antarctica is so cold. Write the correct answers on the board and ask students to record the answers in their Learning Logs. Students should explore the following during this discussion:
  •  The angle of the sun. (The angle of the sun is so low that not much energy reaches the surface.)
  •  Antarctica is surrounded by ocean. (The interior areas are not exposed to the warming influence of the water.)
  •  Most of the continent is covered with ice and snow. (The ice and snow reflect rather than absorb the sun's light.)
  •  Antarctica's high elevation. (High elevations result in colder temperatures.)
  •  Antarctica is extremely dry. (Heat that is radiated back into the atmosphere is not absorbed by water vapor in the atmosphere.)

    Teacher Note: This Web site contains information on the factors that impact the temperature in Antarctica: polarmistexp.com/polarmist_web//land_meteorol.html6.

3. After discussing the factors that affect temperature, ask students to look on a map containing the locations of research stations and predict where they think the -128.6 F temperature was recorded. Ask students to explain their answers.
Answer: The temperature was recorded at Vostok.

4. Show students where the Palmer Station is located on the Antarctic map, and discuss whether they think the temperature at this station is warmer than it is at Vostok. Ask students to explain the reasons for their answers.

5. Divide the class into small groups and provide them with a map of the United States that includes cities. Ask students to think about the factors that influence the cold temperatures in Antarctica, and ask students to choose a location in the continental United States that they think will have a temperature closest to that of the Palmer Station in Antarctica. Ask groups to share their answers with the class.

6. Discuss how in the Southern Hemisphere seasons occur opposite the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. Winter in the United States happens at the same time as summer in Antarctica. Use a globe to show students the tilt of the earth and explain how summer at the south pole brings constant daylight and winter brings total darkness.

7. Over a period of 4 weeks, have students record the temperature at Palmer Station, the town or city chosen by their group, and the temperature where they live and plot these temperatures on a graph. Create a class chart that shows the temperatures at the Palmer Station, the area they live in and the coldest temperature recorded from the location chosen by the groups.

Teacher Note: A review of graphing types, how they are created and how they are interpreted may be necessary. Ask students to choose which type of graph would be most suitable for this project. Discuss how each graph should include a title, labels, even intervals, units of measure and a key. A range of -70 F to 70 F might work well for this activity.

The temperatures can be found on the Weather Underground Web site: www.wunderground.com/global/Region/AN/Temperature.html To find the temperature for the Palmer Station, you must type in Palmer Station, Antarctica in the fast forecast box.

Learning Log Entry: Students should record the temperatures in their learning logs. Provide time at the end of each week for students to write about what they learned regarding temperature.