Thursday, January 10, 2008

Teachable Moment

We started in on our weather unit yesterday.

This is one of my favorite units to teach because I'm a weather junkie. Part of this stems from growing up in Southern California where the weather doesn't change much at all and can put you into a stupor. I fell in love with weather when I lived in the Midwest and realized that it can do some pretty amazing things beside be hazy and mid-70's with a touch of fog in the morning. This is also a unit that the kids have background information on so they can easily relate to the content. They can tell stories about the big hail storm they were in, or the tornado they saw when they were five, or the time they went sledding in the snow.

And find me a seventh grader that won't stare entranced at a video on tornadoes and hurricanes and massive destruction. They love this stuff.

So it's a real shame that I won't be able to teach this after next year because they've changed our standards and are moving this unit to the sixth grade.

In any case, we were only on our second day of the unit and had spent most of the period working on some of the terms we needed to know such as dew point, humidity, relative humidity, weather, and so on. We had five minutes left so I had them pack up while I showed them my favorite weather site, the one put out by The National Weather Service. I love it because it doesn't have ads and you can spend all day clicking on links and finding cool weather information. It's fast and it's accurate. It had been raining pretty much all day, so there were cool radar images to look at as well which the kids really like. And amazingly enough, nearly all our vocabulary words are used in context on the page - how's that for relevance?

So, I pull up the page for our town, and was going to show them how to read it and I notice that we are under a tornado warning.

I look over at Mr. Title, and say, "Wow, we're under a tornado warning!"

And at that instant the tornado alarm goes off in The School.

The kids stand up and look at me, probably wondering how I fixed it so we had a tornado drill during our weather unit. I bark at them to get down in the tornado position against the interior walls, go to shut my door, grab a kid from my first period who is at his locker and send him in the room. Mr. Social Studies is at his door, pulling it shut. "Not a drill, is it?" he asks. "Nope. Not a drill".

By this time Mr. Title has all the kids down on the floor and he looks over at me. I point down to the floor and we both get down.

This kids are kind of giggly and squirming for a minute or two and then it dawns on them, when the annoying beeping didn't stop, that this really isn't a drill. This is real. After a few minutes we could hear the sirens going off in the neighborhood, and then the rain got really loud and the thunder a lot more intense.

I can't believe we didn't lose power.

After about ten minutes the annoying beeping stops and The Principal comes over the loudspeaker and tells us that we're still under the warning but she wanted to give us a break from the alarm (bless her!) and we are to stay put in the tornado position until further notice. The kids are getting restless so I take the remote to my LCD projector, which gets cable television, and was able to get the local news station that does great weather reports onto the screen so they could at least hear what was going on.

After a total of 30 minutes the all clear sounded and we were able to get up off the floor and back into our seats. The Principal asked us to all stay in our 5th period classes until further notice, so Mr. Social Studies and I kept the local news so the kids could watch the storm's progress. By the time it was all over, and the 8th graders were able to finish their lunch that was interrupted by the warning, it was nearly seventh period. We dismissed at our normal time which was a relief because I had visions of being stuck at school with these kids until the storm system passed. Fortunately it wasn't too wide and it moved fast.

I hope this isn't a sign of things to come this spring when tornado season really begins in earnest.

However, how often can you be in front of your class talking about weather and watches and warnings and actually have one happen??? Amazing!


teachergirl said...

Delightful. You don't often get these wonderful moments. Sorry about extended drop and cover, but what an incredible experience. I'll bet your students' mouths were wide open when that alarm went off. Good job!

Mrs. T said...

How cool is that???
We had a tornado watch on Monday. Here. In Iowa. In January. Crazy!

Kim said...

Wow! What a story! Thanks for sharing!

HappyChyck said...

Sure, a little scary, but that will be a moment that will stick with those students forever. That is so cool!

coach said...

just a quick note to let you know that your blog is featured over at InService, ASCD's blog:

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Gee, living in the Midwest has made me long for warmth all the time, like in Southern Cali-- or Tahiti.

And I was once at school when the tornado sirens went off right before dismissal-- and we had to stay and watch the kids for an hour until the all clear was blown. It was not fun.

How cool that the timing was perfect, and that nothing bad happened.

Stacey Shubitz said...


loonyhiker said...

Wow! What a way to introduce a lesson! I hope you don't do one on earthquakes or tidal waves! LOl. Talk about all the real life stuff you can teach them and really keep their attention.

Darren said...

Great story!