Like many of my unit study ideas, this unit study about air and wind morphed and changed several times. In the end, I had more ideas than my kids had attention spans. I also scratched my field trip ideas thanks to the-year-that-will-not-be-named (I’m looking at you 2020).
Nevertheless, what we did complete ended up being a pretty cool set of weeks.
So, in the spirit of allowing for adaptation and flexibility, I’m going to provide you with a few lists of resources that we enjoyed during our study. You can make as much or as little of them as you would like.
- Objectives of Our Air & Wind Unit Study
- Properties of Air
- Air and Wind
- Reading Resources for Air and Wind Unit Study
- Half the Scientific Method
- Air and Wind Unit Study Wrap-Up
Objectives of Our Air & Wind Unit Study
The goals that I finally settled on were quite broad (so, probably not my best moment at outlining what I hoped we’d learn), but they did work.
First, I wanted the girls to be familiar with the properties of air.
Second, I wanted the girls to be familiar with the dynamics of wind. What is it? How does it work? What does it do?
Third, I wanted to do something fun. The “experiment” we ended up doing helped us practice the scientific method on the front end, have a lot of fun chucking things off of our porch roof in the middle, and make some less-than-scientific conclusions. Still, I counted it as worthwhile because we had fun and we practiced the scientific method.
Without further ado, here are the resources that we used and the activities that we did. Hope these help you to craft your own unique and impactful studies on air and wind.
Properties of Air
We started by learning about the properties of air. This is a fun set of activities and particularly for younger kids who may have their mind blown by all the properties of an otherwise invisible substance.
I found this resource, which has loads of explanations and demonstration ideas, and used it as a guide but not as a step-by-step process.
The properties that I emphasized were:
Air is matter
This means that air takes up space and air has mass. Two activities demonstrate these concepts particularly well.
First, air takes up space. Hold open a plastic bag and ask, “What’s in this bag?” Most of the time kids will say, “Nothing.” Give the open bag a good wave in front of you and then close off the top. You should be holding a bag full of air. Now ask the question again, “What’s in the bag?” Kids will recognize that air is in the bag – not “nothing” as they originally affirmed.
Second, air has mass. We took a detour conversation on this one to clarify the distinction between mass and weight. I had to do some digging to figure out how to clarify this one since I wasn’t entirely sure myself. Here’s how I explained it (in an admittedly simplified way) after a quick google search for “what is the difference between weight and mass?”
Mass is the total of electrons, neutrons, and protons that something has. Weight is the measurement of the impact of gravity on that collection of electrons, neutrons, and protons. Mass doesn’t change regardless of where you are. Say, for example, you’re on the moon. Your mass (your number of electrons, protons, and neutrons) stays the same. However, since gravity is different on the moon, then the same object will have a different weight.
If that doesn’t work for your explanation you may have to dig around a little. That was the clearest example I could give for these purposes.
Okay, so air has matter – which means it takes up space and has mass – that was the first property I emphasized.
Air exerts pressure
Here is the YouTube video that we used for this air demonstration. In fact, I relied on this channel, Fun Science Demos, for several parts of this unit. It is easy to get sucked into the different lessons and demonstrations – I usually only had one video planned, but my girls would request one more and one more and one more. Not a bad problem to have!
My girls enjoyed his clear explanations and great visuals. I appreciated the clear explanations, too. But also I loved not having to clean up a mess later!
Air is affected by temperature
To demonstrate the relationship between air and temperature we used another Fun Science Demos cool YouTube demonstration.
Air and Wind
Those three properties of air were the most important for moving us into a conversation about wind – and hence the title “air and wind unit study.” They came into play frequently in the discussion that followed.
Definition of Wind
To start, we used a simple definition of wind as “moving air.” Then we talked about why wind, “moving air,” is important.
Ideas included spreading plant seeds, supporting bird flight, breathing, and cooling off the earth.
At this point we took a class to re-do a worksheet that they had done a year ago. The worksheet by Captivate Science on Teachers Pay Teachers connects the various spheres of earth and talks about how they interact with one another. In several places it reinforced the role of wind as well as other aspects of the natural environment.
Okay, so wind is important. Got it.
Now, what do we know about wind?
As usual, my initial instinct was to over-do this part. Let’s learn ALL THE THINGS! Except kids, and adults for that matter, aren’t wired to absorb ALL THE THINGS. And, frankly, we don’t need to. I have to tell myself over and over: “Focus!”
Local and Global Winds
We focused on understanding local and global winds. I used this resource from Laney Lee on Teachers Pay Teachers.
At this point we were understanding the relationship between air responding to temperature and temperature impacting pressure.
Cold air has a higher pressure so it “sinks,” and warm air has a lower pressure so it “rises.” You can be as detailed or as simple as you want. When molecules are colder, they slow down and get closer together (I think of them as huddling to try to stay warm) so they create more pressure as a group.
When molecules are heated, they expand and push around, bouncing off of one another. This creates more “space” between them so they don’t exert as much pressure as a group.
We spent a day talking about land and sea breezes (which we’ll reinforce whenever we go to the beach again).
We spent another day labeling the global winds. I particularly emphasized the doldrums simply because it ties into the English-language idiom of being “in the doldrums.”
Activity: Beaufort Scale
To have a little fun understanding our own local winds we made a Beaufort Scale Spinner from The Kids’ Book of Weather Forecasting by Mark Breen and Kathleen Friestad (more info below).
The Beaufort scale was developed by English admiral Sir Francis Beaufort who needed a visual way to determine the general speed of the winds. He created a system based on the effect of the wind on a fully rigged sailing ship (how inflated are the sails). Later, descriptions of the winds effect on land were added for us land-lubbers (such as how much movement is in the trees or flags).
Though we definitely did not memorize each of the categories, we have more than once asked where the winds are on the Beaufort scale when it gets breezy around here. And at least once, we’ve pulled out one of the scales to make a more educated guess.
This was another section where I had visions of creating anemometers, wind vanes, and making weather charts, but, again, recognized a need to scale back a bit. The Kids’ Book of Weather Forecasting is a great resource for any of these activities.
Reading Resources for Air and Wind Unit Study
Last but not least, these are a few of the books that were part of our unit study on air and wind. Some of these I used myself as a reference, some of them we read together, and a couple I strewed about the house and waited for interest to kick in. I’ve divided them into Non-Fiction and Fiction.
What on Earth? Wind by Isabel Thomas
This book was one of my favorite resources, this book is a well-done guide to the wind. Thomas includes poems, experiments, activities, and one-to-two-page references to aspects of wind. Clear, colorful, and accessible.
How Does the Wind Blow by Patricia J. Murphy
A small, informative book with answers to an assortment of common wind questions. What kind of winds are there? How does the wind blow? When can the wind be harmful?
When the Wind Blows by Stacy Clark
On the surface this book tells in rhyme the various things that happen when wind blows, starting at a day on the beach. The main part of the book, however, emphasizes the use of wind as a source of alternative energy. Bright, primary colors and simple language make this an excellent introduction for younger readers.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Picture Book Edition by William Kamkwamba
The true story of William Kamkwamba’s quest to build a windmill for his village in Malawi. Against all odds, young William stayed focused, taught himself, and successfully harnessed the wind to power electricity.
This work is also available in an adult edition and a young readers’ edition (could be good for a read-aloud!).
The Wind at Work: an Activity Guide to Windmills by Gretchen Woelfle
The Wind at Work is a detailed, black-and-white, guide to windmills. It includes a wide range of information as well as several activities. Better suited for upper elementary/lower middle grades.
The Kids’ Book of Weather Forecasting by Mark Breen and Kathleen Friestad
This book could be used for a meteorology unit study or seasons or clouds or anything atmosphere related really. I used this more as a resource, and I’m keeping it around as a future resource. It’s a great book divided into short sections packed with information, activities, and colorful illustrations.
The overarching theme of understanding the weather is woven well throughout the individual sections. I appreciated how it tied together all the elements bit by bit to understand weather forecasting, but they could just as easily be separated if you want to study a distinct section (like we did!).
Comes a Wind by Linda Arms White
This is a hilarious tale about two brothers who are always trying to outdo each other. One big wind finally brings them together in unusual circumstances.
The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins
Readers follow a playful but strong wind that catches various items from the community up in its gust. Will everyone get the right thing back?
Kate, Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon
A man lives at the top of a hill and is battered by constant strong winds. His cry for help reaches a girl at the bottom of the hill. She can’t stop the wind so what can she do? A sweet story about growing trees and kindness.
Half the Scientific Method
Like I said earlier, I also wanted to do a fun project sort of activity. Conveniently, a couple weeks before we were to begin this unit, my husband announced that he had figured out an easy way to get onto the roof of our back porch. The girls absolutely wanted to try it, and he said that next time he went out then he’d take them. I absolutely wanted them to try it – and add it to our air unit.
We made an observation that parachutes help “stuff” land safely. One daughter wanted to test which material was best for a parachute; the other daughter wanted to test which shape was best for a parachute. Those were our hypotheses.
We were good on recording our information and predictions on the front-end, but after launching our objects off the porch and looking at our videos we realized we didn’t have the tools to measure precisely. So, we estimated our results (gasp!), and talked about our conclusions, and had a great time tossing stuff off the roof.
Air and Wind Unit Study Wrap-Up
I hope some of these resources work for you. Since I toyed around with this concept for a bit before launching our version, I played around with a few ideas.
These resources or various combinations could be really useful in a meteorology unit study, or a more in-depth study of wind, or climate, or kites, or birds in flight, or the atmosphere, or alternative energy sources. It could go in a lot of directions, is what I’m saying.
Best of luck to you! Let me know what air or wind resources work well for you!
If you’re looking for other unit study ideas, you might want to check out our Picture Book Biography Unit Study.