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Resource library: Understanding climate, the seasons and the natural world

Resource library: Understanding climate, the seasons and the natural world
A teacher pointing to a large book to a class all sitting outside
© University of Reading

There are so many possibilities for exploring climate information, it can be difficult to know where to start. When finding relevant information online there’s certain questions you should ask:

  • Is it based on sound science?
  • Is it open access, so without cost to you or your school?
  • Is it accessible to children with a broad range of experience and learning needs?
  • Is it manageable without specialist equipment, or involve resources that can be obtained free of charge?
  • Is it relevant to the age-appropriate curriculum?

General resources

If you want to improve your understanding of the fundamentals of the Earth’s climate system and the causes of climate change then the UK Met Office is a good site to visit. This includes an accessible, four minute animated video that introduces the basic workings of the Earth’s climate, a summary of the main causes of climate change and links to lots of other resources. Of particular use is the Climate Change Questions section which answers common questions the Met Office are asked about climate change. There is also an informative section on the Effects of Climate Change.

The Royal Meteorological Society (RMetS) is the UK professional body for Meteorology and Climate related areas. The RMetS website includes short articles on various aspects of Climate Change with some links to trusted external resources on those topics.

Internationally, one of the best online resources aimed at primary age children comes from the US Space Agency NASA. There are short articles, infographics, videos and games on many aspects of weather, climate and climate change. As this is a US website temperatures are given in Fahrenheit rather than Celsius but on the whole the website is descriptive rather than quantitative so this isn’t a major issue.

WWF provide a range of online resources to support the teaching of climate change and sustainability in schools, with a particular emphasis on impacts of climate change on the natural world. There are downloadable education packs, a PowerPoint presentation introducing climate change, lots of informative web pages and a Climate Hero certificate that you can request for your class or star climate pupils. They also run a Teacher network that you can join to receive updates on educational resources and CPD materials.

Class projects

Plotting temperature change graphs

The UK Met Office Climate Maps and Data contains a wealth of weather and climate data for the UK. The climate data goes back to 1659, so children can use this data to plot graphs of how the temperature has changed with time over any period since then. The interactive website also makes graphs of various climate variables since 1884 for the UK as a whole or for the individual countries of the UK (in the UK temperature, rainfall and sunshine time series). For instance, the graph below shows the annual mean temperature for Wales from 1884 to 2021. A clear warming trend can be seen alongside a lot of variability from year to year.

Graph with temperature plotted against year from 1884-2021, showing the highest (just over 10⁰C) and lowest annual mean temperatures (just under 7.5⁰C), the mean for 1991-2020 (just under 9.5⁰C), the mean for the last year (just over 9.5⁰C), and the trend (which is upward)

Exploring maps

For younger children, the actual and anomaly maps on the Met Office website are very useful. You can choose a month, a season or a whole year, and then produce a map to see if that period was warmer/colder or wetter/drier than ‘normal’. This allows children to see straight away if their own perceptions of the weather are borne out by real data. For instance, the left-hand map below, taken from this website, shows that 2021 in the UK was everywhere at least 0.5 degrees warmer than the 1961-1990 average annual mean temperature, and in a quite large region over 1 degree warmer than normal. 1961-1990 is often taken as the standard base period which climate scientists use to define normal climate, mid-way through the industrial period. The right-hand map shows the temperature anomaly in April 2021, compared to the most recent 30 years (1991-2020). The whole country is at least 1.5 degrees colder than normal with the south-east of England being colder still. This was an exceptionally cold month and many Spring events such as the flowering of bluebells occurred later than normal in this year.

On the left: map of the UK shaded in reds with the brightest reds in N. Ireland, central England, north east England and some areas in western Scotland. On the right: map of the UK shaded in blues with the darkest blue in the south east of England, and the lightest in Northern Ireland and the far south west of Wales and Devon.

Understanding day length worldwide

A lot of activity in the natural world is triggered by day length. For instance, the date on which birds migrate or the flowering date of many plant species are dependent to some extent on day length, often with variations caused by temperature. The progression of the seasons is also strongly defined by day length.

This time and date website provides sunrise, sunset and day length data for any location across the world. It also plots a ‘sun graph’ for any location, showing how the hours of daylight vary through the year.

At its simplest this website can be used by children to see how day length changes on a day-to-day basis. In the dark winter months how quickly do the evenings start to get lighter? Pupils can also use it to see when the solstices occur and which days of the year have the most and least daylight.

In the next Step, you’ll explore a range of ideas for exploring seasons and changes to our environment outdoors.

© University of Reading
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