How Do We Measure Winter?

snowdriftIt has been quite a winter in Michigan, and across the central and eastern United States. Newscasters are having fun describing the many ways in which this winter has been exceptional. This, of course, brings to mind the question, “How do you measure winter?” I know it is an odd question to consider at the end of March but 1) it has been a very odd winter and 2) when can you really measure a winter except at the end of it? If you’d like to think about winter in some new ways, consider some these ideas.

1. How would you decide if this really was the worst winter ever in the Midwest? What statistics would be important? Would they all be equally important, or should some be weighted more heavily?  Challenge students to come up with their own formula for a difficult winter and see how this one stacks up. Alternatively (and especially for my Australian readers), consider what factors would make for a difficult summer. What would you need to measure?

lighthouseice2. Learn how meteorologists measure snow (or rain). Here’s another link with more detail. Consider the challenges presented by different types of snow. Be sure to scroll down the AtmosNews link to see comparisons of wet snow, fluffy snow, etc. This is a fine opportunity for problem finding. What kinds of questions could you ask about snow? You could store the questions for next year or, instead, think about the kinds of questions students could ask about rain. Surely, spring rains will come soon!

3. Lizann Flatt explores the question for young children in the picture book Sizing Up Winter. While not attempting to measure winter per se, it helps children explore mathematical questions like “How many birds long is the bird feeder?” or “How far do snowflakes fall?” “Do they all fall the same distance?” Students could invent new questions for winter or create a sizingupwinternew book for a different season. Flatt does have parallel books for spring and fall, but there is no reason you couldn’t write one, too.

4. Flatt’s book also could post a challenge for older students who might be inspired to create picture book follow-ups. This could be particularly interesting if students were given core ideas from the primary curriculum and asked to create pages that would help young children think about those ideas. For example, the U.S. Next Generation  Science Standards ask kindergarten children to make observations about the effects of sunlight on different materials, the patterns of weather, and the relationships of the needs of plants and animals to the places they live. Asking older students to create pages that focus on these core ideas could help them think about science concepts in new ways.

Now, I will admit I am plenty ready to say good-bye to winter 2013-14. But before we do, let’s think about measuring it. I’d love to hear what you calculate.

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