At School Is Easy Tutoring, we’re always looking for ways to make the old new again. It’s an approach that we’ve explored on numerous occasions in this blog, from using bowling to teach kids math to helping kids understand statistics with baseball. Today, we’re going to take another everyday item — the barometer — and try to see it in a new light. We’ll examine some ideas on how to teach kids math and meteorology with barometers.
A short background on barometers
Barometers are used to measure atmospheric pressure, often in the form of millibars. The higher the reading, the more likely it is that the weather is or will be sunny. Lower pressure is usually associated with rain.
Going over the entire history of the barometer will take a bit more than a blog post, but in a nutshell, it was invented by scientists who were trying to prove whether or not a vacuum could exist. According to this TED video, for many years, people believed that vacuums were an impossibility because it was a theory that had been popularized by Aristotle. However, this theory was questioned when the famous Galileo Galilei suggested that the force of a vacuum could pressure over water being pumped from the ground.
Gasparo Berti heard Galileo hypothesis and sought to investigate it by filling a tube with water and placing it vertically in a tub of shallow water. He opened the tube, and some water from the tube did flow into the tub. But much of the water still remained in the tube, demonstrating that the air surrounding the tub exerted pressure on the water. Why? Because if the air didn’t exert any force, all the water from the tube would have spilled out. On top of that, the a small bubble devoid of air or water was created, proving that vacuums were possible!
Later, water was replaced with mercury, and these new barometers were tested in areas of higher elevation, showing that differing air pressures created different readings. These eventually evolved into the barometers we know today.
Teach kids simple arithmetic and temperature with barometers
Simple arithmetic is probably one of the first lessons that you can teach children once you have explained how a barometer works. Perhaps one of the most simple barometers you can start with is the common temperature barometer. You can start by asking children to keep a log of temperature change. Ask your students to write down the temperature at specific times of the day. For example, once at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. Do this for several weeks and show them how to measure a temperature fluctuation. You can ask them to compare differences between morning, noon and evening temperatures. Then you can ask them to compare and contrast temperatures between weeks and, if you choose to do this for a while, between months.
This would also be a great opportunity to teach them temperature conversions. For example, have them record temperatures in Celsius. Then ask them how hot or cold the readings are in Fahrenheit or Kelvins.
Explore simple fractions and percentages when teaching kids about barometers
Many barometers, especially aneroid barometers, have a lot in common with pie charts that are often used to teach fractions to children. This can be used as a novel teaching tool. For example, you ask children to calculate the distance that the measuring needle travels in a day. Then you can relate the distance to a slice on a pie chart. You can then ask them if the distance covered by the needle was, for example, 1/8th of the total barometer. Then you can convert that fraction into a percentage to teach simple percentages. There’s a math lesson you can cover when teaching kids math and meteorology with barometers.
Use barometers as a ‘gateway’ into teaching meteorology
Once you teach kids about barometers, they may be interested in learning about weather, once they understand how air pressure relates to sun and rain. Take this as a chance to delve into more meteorological concepts. For example, turn on the weather forecast or go to Environment Canada and compare the readings on your kids’ homemade barometer with the official readings. When browsing through the diagrams and charts, children will probably encounter terms like ‘probability of precipitation’ and so forth. This would be a great chance to learn more!
Spark interactive learning!
A barometer is just the first step to learning about weather. Next, you can pursue other lessons, such as explaining how a rain gauge works. Use the momentum you create in this lesson to spur more learning!