Wind and Air Pressure Lesson
This is part 2 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Meteorology and Weather. Make weather vanes and barometers, act out high and low pressure, blow up a balloon and collapse a can using hot water, make and eat prevailing winds, and more! My lessons are geared toward 2nd-3rd grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 14 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, after school program, camp, or co-op!
Does Air Take Up Space & Move?
1. Stretch. Pray. Read and discuss Jeremiah 10:12-13. Ask children what God uses to create season changes and weather.
2. Read "Feel the Wind" by Arthur Dorros.
3. Introduction to air: Ask, "Does air take up space?" Blow up a balloon (don't tie it shut) to show air taking up space.
YOU WILL NEED: a balloon
4. Ask, "How does air move?" It moves from high to low pressure. Using the same balloon you already blew up, let everyone feel the balloon as you pinch the balloon closed. Say something like, “The air molecules are close together. The air pressure is high. If we squished you all together, would you be comfortable? No, you’d want to move away so you could have some space. Just like you, the air molecules inside the balloon also want to get out to where there is more space (low air pressure).” Demonstrate this by releasing the air in the balloon. Ask, "Did the air molecules want to stay squished together in the balloon?" (No, they prefer to move to from high pressure to low pressure.)
Does Air Have Weight?
5. Ask, "Does air have weight?"
- Have children wave their hands in the air. Ask if the air around them feels heavy or light.
- Hold up a sheet of paper that is 1 square inch and then pass it around so that the children can hold it. “That much air weighs more than this baby/toddler [or a small dog].” (Point to a baby or toddler). “It weighs about 17 pounds per square inch!”
- Blow up a balloon and tie it off. Ask the children, “What is inside this balloon?” (Yes, air.) Tape that balloon to one side of a ruler & tape an empty balloon to the other side of the ruler. Hold up the ruler by holding on to the piece of yarn in the middle. You now have a balance. Ask the children what they notice. (The blown-up balloon is much heavier than the one that isn't blown up.)
- Let each child hold the "balance" to compare the weight of the two balloons.
- Ask, "What is the only difference between the two?" (Air!) Does air have weight? (Yes.)
YOU WILL NEED: a sheet of paper that is 1 square inch, 2 balloons, tape, & a ruler or other straight stick with a piece of yarn or string (about 6") tied to the middle of the ruler
Can You See Hot Air Making Wind?
6. Turn on a lamp without a shade. (It needs to warm up for a minute.) Ask the children to recall what they learned last week about warm air. Prompt them if necessary. (Hot air rises and that makes wind.) Sprinkle some baby powder on the table next to the lamp. Ask, "What happens?" (The baby powder falls on the table.) Lightly sprinkle the baby powder above the hot light bulb and let the children watch as it bounces upward. Tell them, "This shows you the hot air rising and creating wind." Let each child sprinkle some baby powder over the light bulb. Remind them to be careful because the light bulb is hot.
YOU WILL NEED: a lamp with a light bulb that generates heat (at least 60W, though 100 W is better) & baby powder
The Magic Balloon (Heat and Cold Affect the Movement of Air)
7. (While the children are doing activities 5 & 6, begin boiling water.) Ask, "What causes wind to move?" Show how heating air causes air molecules to speed up and cooling the air causes air molecules to slow down.
- Stretch the opening of the balloon over the neck of the bottle. Be sure that it is tight so that no air can escape.
- Place the bottom half of the bottle in hot water for 1-2 minutes. Ask, "What is happening and why?" (The balloon will inflate. The air molecules are warming up which causes them to move around a lot more and spread out more.) If your balloon doesn't inflate, check to make sure the balloon is tightly sealed around the neck of the bottle.
- Remove the bottle from the hot water and place the bottle in the bowl of ice water. Ask, "What is happening and why?" (The balloon will deflate. The air molecules are cooling off, moving less, and therefore taking up less space.)
- Explanation: Just liked we demonstrated last week when we mimicked convection cells, this experiment shows how hot and cold air determine the weather. Warm air masses are less dense than surrounding cooler air masses, causing them to be buoyant and rise. This results in low barometric pressure at the Earth's surface. Cold air masses subside relative to surrounding warmer air, causing high surface air pressure. Surface pressure differences produce movement of air (from high to low pressure regions) known as winds.
- Repeat this again. What is happening?
YOU WILL NEED: an empty plastic water or soda bottle, a balloon, a pan or bowl with boiling hot water, a bowl with ice water, tongs
The Collapsing Can (Air Pressure Creates Wind)
9. (While children are watching the balloon experiment in activity 8, place 2-3 empty soda/pop/Coke cans on the stove (or in a skillet on the stove) and heat on high for at least 2 minutes. If you don't have a stove available, have them sit in boiling hot water. You'll need to heat the air inside the cans to make this experiment work.) Ask, "How does low and high pressure differences cause water and air to move?" While the children are acting out air molecules, place at least two empty soda/pop/Coke cans on the stove for at least 2 minutes. When the children are ready to watch, have them gather around the bowl of ice water, which should be right next to the cans that are heating up. Using tongs, remove the first can from the heat. Quickly submerge it upside down into the ice water. (To make this work correctly, you need to have the ice water right next to the pan on the stove because the hot air escapes quickly.) The can will collapse with a loud bang and water will rush into it. Explain that the heated air in the can cooled and condensed, creating space (a vacuum) for the water to fill. This shows how wind is created by low and high pressure areas. Repeat the experiment again with the second can and ask the children, "What just happened and why?" My kids loved this demonstration!
YOU WILL NEED: at least 2 empty soda/pop/Coke cans, skillet (optional), hot plate or stove, tongs, and bowl of very cold ice water
10. Read "What Will the Weather Be?" by Lynda Dewitt.
Make a Barometer
11. Make a barometer to measure air pressure.
- The website connected to this link provides great step-by-step pictures and explanations.
- Ask children, "What is a barometer?" Tell them they'll be making one today. Have each child stretch the balloon over the open top of the jar. Use 1-2 rubber bands to hold it tightly. Make sure it is securely fastened so that no air can escape. Tape the straw to the middle of the balloon. This will be your barometer needle.
- Tell the children that when they get home, they need to make sure the straw is still taped to the balloon. Then they need to tape a piece of paper to the wall somewhere where it won't get disturbed. They should place their barometer next to the piece of paper and mark on the paper where the straw is. Every day they should check to see where the straw is and record if the air pressure is high or low that day and then their prediction for the weather for the next day.
- The above website explains how it works: "Higher air pressure pushes the balloon into the jar and makes the straw go up. Conversely, the air inside the jar expands against lower pressure and will bulge the balloon, moving the straw down. The straw makes it easier to see the motions of the balloon. As the straw moves up with higher air pressure, the days should be sunnier. As the straw lowers, the skies may be looking gray and you should expect cloudy or rainy weather on the way. Also notice that the straw moves up or down just before a weather change since a change in weather typically coincides with a change in the atmospheric pressure."
- (Note: These did really work - but only when we had changes in weather (i.e. if it was going to rain)).
YOU WILL NEED: (per child) 1 balloon with the neck cut off, 2 rubber bands, a straight straw, & scotch tape (Note: The balloons will be easier to use if first you blow them up & then release the air before cutting off the neck. You don't have to do that, though, if you don't have time.)
Dramatize High and Low Pressure
12. Have children dramatize high and low pressure. Give each child a handful of pieces of blue paper (which represents water). Have them walk around the room freely as low pressure pretending to pour down rain (dropping the blue paper) & blowing wind (blowing air from their mouths). They can easily drop the rain and blow the wind because they have plenty of space. Have all the children then pile up on one another (we had them all try to squish into 2 chairs) as high pressure. Ask, "Can you freely pour down your rain (blue paper) anymore? Can those of you at the bottom of the pile easily blow wind (out of your mouths)?" No! High air pressure is caused when the air molecules gets squished together. It brings fair weather. Low pressure brings lots of rain and wind. (Option 2: Alternatively, you can do this activity outside and use cups of water instead of blue paper. The children will get slightly wet if you do this.)
YOU WILL NEED: Option 1: 2 sheets of blue paper (construction paper or copier paper) per child. Cut or rip the sheets into as tiny of pieces as you can or Option 2: some towels & a cup of water for each child
Make an Anemometer
13. Ask the children, "Who remembers from the book we read what Beaufort's scale and an anemometer measure?" (Wind)
(If you're not limited by time) Make an anemometer by following the directions from this Energy Quest website. During our co-op we did make anemometers using a different set of directions. They did not spin very well and were difficult to make. The directions from Energy Quest look like they may work better if you want to try to make one.
Make a Weather Vane
14. Make a weather vane.
- Give each child a sturdy paper plate that has had a hole poked in the middle. On the bottom of the plate have the children write "N" for north at the top of the plate, "S" for south at the bottom of the plate, "E" for east on the right side of the plate, and "W" for west on the right side of the plate.
- Give each child a second sturdy paper plate and have them put a walnut-sized ball of play-dough in the middle of the plate. Have them place a few pebbles or small rocks around the edges of the play-dough. (You could also give each child a handful of dried beans if you don't have that many pebbles available.) These will keep the weather vane from falling over.
- Have each child place the first plate upside down (so the writing is showing) on top of the second plate (so that the play-dough and rocks are covered) and then tape the edges together.
- Have each child push a pencil into the hole in the first plate so that the pencil sticks into the Play-dough. The eraser end should be sticking up.
- Give each child the arrowhead and tails and the straw. Have them place the arrow head in the slit of one side of the straw and the tail in the slit of the other end of the straw. If needed, they can use tape to keep them attached.
- Assist the children in putting a straight pin through the middle of the straw. Push it through the eraser so that the arrow/straw is attached to the pencil eraser. Don't make it too tight as you want the straw to be able to spin.
YOU WILL NEED:(per child) 2 heavy paper plates (1 with a small hole poked through the middle), markers, a walnut-sized ball of play-dough, 5 small rocks/pebbles/dried beans, scotch tape, a pencil with an eraser, an arrow head and tail shape cut out of construction paper or posterboard paper, a straw with a small slit cut on each end, & a straight pin or thumbtack
15. (If you are not limited by time)Take anemometer and weather vane outside to test them and to determine the wind speed and direction for the day. You can also blow bubbles to determine the direction of the air and see if it matches what the weather vane shows.
Running Into Prevailing Winds
16. (Optional) Quickly discuss prevailing winds and their relation to explorers (like Columbus) or people traveling between America and Europe (like Benjamin Franklin). Demonstrate how prevailing winds help or hinder movement by using large box fans. Have 1-2 box fans blowing on high toward the children. Have the children line up one by one and run toward & then away from the blowing fans. Ask, "Which is easier?" (Running away should be easier because the wind is helping to push you just like the prevailing winds helped to push sailors across the ocean.
YOU WILL NEED: 1-2 large box fans
Snack: Eating Prevailing Winds
17. Show prevailing winds using apple ring slices and miniature goldfish crackers. Ahead of time slice apples across from top to bottom so they form thick rings. (You don't need to core them ahead of time as the kids can eat around the core.)
- Have the children place miniature goldfish crackers (and a few Fruity Cheerios or Fruit loops if desired) across the apple circle going in the pattern of prevailing winds on the earth. You can see the pattern on this Weather Wiz Kids website if you scroll down a bit.
- Mention the names of each of the winds as the children place the goldfish crackers on the apple: Polar Easterlies (blow from NE), Westerlies (blow from SW), Trades, Doldrums (no winds), Trades, Westerlies, (blow from NW), Polar Easterlies (blow from SE).
- (You can use any circle-shaped food instead of the apple if desired. An English muffin half slathered in peanut butter would be another good option.)
YOU WILL NEED: napkins, 11 apple rings (sliced from an apple) OR use the round bread thins/English Muffin topped with peanut butter (or sunbutter), miniature goldfish crackers, & Fruity Cheerios or Fruit Loops (optional)
Pinwheels, Homework, and Review
18. (If you're not limited by time) Make pinwheels by following the directions on this eHow website. (To make these faster, use colored paper so the children don't have to color them.) Place the pinwheels near a lamp that has been on for a while. Ask, "Why do the pinwheels move?"
YOU WILL NEED: (per child) an 8.5x11 inch sheet of paper, scissors, crayons, a straw, and a brass fastener
19. Homework: Remind children to record the air pressure and their weather predictions this week. They can also record wind direction as well if they would like.
20. 5 Minute Review of what we learned.
Material List for the Lesson
(This material list does not include the materials needed to make the anemometer or the pinwheel.)
*Everyone needs to bring per child:
- a glass jar such as an empty spaghetti sauce jar or a mason jar
- scotch tape (1 roll per family)
- an unused pencil with an eraser (preferably not a mechanical pencil)
*Items to be assigned to individuals:
(Some items are repeated because you will need multiple ones of those items.)
- 5 balloons (not inflated) + 1 balloon per child
- Book: "Feel the Wind" by Arthur Dorros.
- a sheet of paper that is 1 square inch
- a ruler (or other straight stick) with a piece of yarn or string (each the same length and about 6 inches) tied to the middle of the ruler
- a lamp with a light bulb (at least 60 W) that generates heat (i.e. not a fluorescent light bulb)
- baby powder
- an empty plastic water bottle
- a saucepan to use to boil water (It should not be a large pot.)
- a bowl with ice water
- 2-3 empty soda/pop/Coke cans
- Book: "What Will the Weather Be?" by Lynda Dewitt
- 2 rubber bands per child
- a straight straw per child (If you cannot get straight straws, buy the bendable type and cut off the bendable part)
- 2 sheets of blue paper (construction paper or copier paper) per child. Cut or rip the sheets into as tiny of pieces as you can.
- 2 heavy paper plates (1 with a small hole poked through the middle) per child
- play-dough or modeling clay (enough so that each child can have a walnut-sized ball of play-dough)
- 5 small rocks/pebbles/dried beans per child
- an arrow head and tail shape cut out of poster board paper or cereal box-type cardboard per child (They will be used to make an arrow for a weather vane.)
- a straw with a small slit cut on each end per child
- a straight pin or thumbtack per child
- 1 container of bubbles (the kind you blow)
- a strong fan (like a box fan)
- a strong fan (like a box fan)
- an extension cord (optional -- if needed for the box fan)
- an extension cord (optional -- if needed for the box fan)
- 1 napkin per child
- 1 large circle shaped snack (such as an English muffin half or apple sliced horizontally) per child
- Peanut butter & knife (or use Nutella, Sunbutter, or frosting if you have a child with peanut allergies)
- About 15 miniature goldfish crackers per child (& fruity Cheerios or Fruit Loops if desired)
Ready for the next lesson?
Make tornadoes and clouds in a bottle, create and use rain gauges, dramatize a storm front, design and eat clouds, race against prevailing winds, and more during this exciting 4 part unit study on weather and meteorology!
- Sun, Seasons, and Weather Lesson - This is part 1 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Meteorology and Weather. Conduct experiments and demonstrations on how the sun, soil, and water affect the seasons and weather, dramatize the Earth's revolutions around the sun, and more!
- Wind and Air Pressure Lesson - This is part 2 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Meteorology and Weather. Make weather vanes and barometers, act out high and low pressure, blow up a balloon and collapse a can using hot water, make and eat prevailing winds, and more!
- Clouds and Precipitation Lesson - This is part 3 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Meteorology and Weather. Make clouds in a bottle, create rain, build rain gauges, form and eat clouds, and more!
- Tornadoes, Hurricanes, and Lightning Lesson - This is part 4 of a 4 part hands-on unit study on Meteorology and Weather. Create tornadoes in a bottle, form a hurricane in a mixing bowl, produce lightning and thunder using pie plates and balloons, and more!
- Weather Unit Presentations and Field Trips - This is the culminating activity for our 4 part hands-on unit on Meteorology and Weather. The children presented art projects, lapbooks, and weather experiments they created or performed during the unit. Afterward we had a weather-themed lunch. Recipes are included. Also included is where we went for field trips during this unit.
- Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies - Over the years I have posted over 40 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 170 lessons. The unit studies include the Human Body, Simple Machines, Earth Science, Medieval Period, American Revolution, Pioneer Life, Countries of the World, and many more! For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources.
Bill Nye explains what causes wind
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Would you like to teach this way every day?
I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful curriculum and was created by moms with active boys!
If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' HomeSchoolMentor.com program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!
© 2011 Shannon