Children Learn about Weather and Climate

Forest Service Partners with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to Complete New Educational Module

A partnership between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station has led to the development of a second educational module for Cherokee youth. The first module focused on culturally significant plants, and was completed in 2015.

Climate-weather module
Instructor’s guides and some of the student activity materials for the climate-weather module. Photo by USFS.

The most recent module introduces children to climate, weather, and climate change. The curriculum is designed so that in addition to meteorology and climatology, tribal members and elders can teach Cherokee traditions and traditional knowledge. The module also integrates the Cherokee language into a number of activities.

The climate-weather module is currently being tested by children and youth at the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s Snowbird Youth Center in Robbinsville, North Carolina.  The youth center is part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cherokee. The Forest Service team, which included Sarah Farmer, Stephanie Laseter, and Sarah Workman, developed the module with input from many experts including Wanda Blythe and other Snowbird Youth Center personnel, Barbara Duncan at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and Micah Swimmer at the New Kituwah Academy.

The module is organized into 3 sections: What is Weather, What is Climate, and What is Climate Change.  Each section includes an instructor’s guide as well as several activities for children from K-12. The section explains that the circulation of air around the globe drives weather and includes a puzzle that shows circulation patterns. The section on weather also provides opportunities for children to observe, record, and discuss weather trends.

The Cherokee language is an important part of the lessons, in both the instructor and student materials. Instructors’ sheets include tables of Cherokee vocabulary that can be included in any of the activities. Student materials also feature the Cherokee language. For example, one of the activities asks younger children to observe the weather and use moveable cardinal-shaped gauges to indicate current conditions. The weather conditions are listed in both English and Cherokee.

One of the fundamental goals of the course is to help children understand the differences between climate and weather. Several activities and games in the What is Climate section, such as the card game Is This Climate or Weather? show that weather describes current or recent conditions, while climate describes conditions over decades, centuries, or even longer.

One of the activities is a snakes and ladders style board game. Players advance faster by landing on squares that have environmentally friendly messages.
One of the activities is a snakes and ladders style board game. Players advance faster by landing on squares that have environmentally friendly messages.

The section on climate also includes climate zone maps for the children to color, a quiz game, a picture series of animals and plants that are adapted to different climates, and other activities. The section also builds on the plants module by asking children to think about the relationship between culturally significant plants and their habitats.

The final section discusses climate change. Before introducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the instructor can pass around a Carbon Kit – a set of items that include the element carbon such as a pencil, leaves, paper, wood, and a piece of coal. Afterwards, the children can go outside and find carbon-containing items to make their own Carbon Kit. Subsequent activities build on this knowledge to introduce carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect, and a Snakes and Ladders-style board game that encourages children to practice sustainability every day.

The Forest Service and EBCI want to nurture and inspire the next generation of community members and stewards of the earth, as well as the next generation of scientists. The module is one step towards helping children understand and appreciate their cultural heritage, as well as the scientific realities that affect us all.

For more information, email Sarah Farmer at sfarmer02@fs.fed.us.

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