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What's The Air Forecast?

Activity 1 (Engage): What's That in the Sky?

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Activity Overview

Activity Summary

Students are introduced to the anchor phenomenon for the unit by looking at a picture of a city at two different times: half of the picture shows the city hazy with smog, and the other half is clear. Students consider what could be causing this unusual phenomenon.

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 30-45 minutes



  • Students will make observations and hypotheses, and ask questions to better understand the anchor phenomenon



  • Computer & projector

  • Investigation Tracker (teacher guide)



  • I See, I Think, I Wonder

  • Investigation Tracker

  • Air Quality Champion interview (optional)

Standards Connection

DCI: ESS 3.C – Human Impacts on Earth’s Systems



What is it like outside today? Use descriptive language to provide as many details as possible.

  • Use this warmup as a way to get students thinking about how they would describe current weather conditions. They will almost certainly not describe the air quality, but they may say things like “it is clear” or “it is cloudy.” Tell students to keep these words in mind for later in the activity.


1. Frame the Activity

Tell students that they are starting a new investigation today. For this investigation, they are going to take on the role of meteorologists (weather scientists) to study a strange thing that happened in the city (or a nearby city) a few summers ago. It will be up to them to use their scientific skills to figure out what happened. Then they will need to use their weather forecasting skills to figure out if the strange thing is going to happen again, and what to people about it.

AQC - Amelia Draper teaser.jpg

Personal Connection (recommended): Sometime during the module, have students read the interview with this module’s Air Quality Champion to help them understand the people who keep us safe from air pollution and the kinds of work that they do.

Step 1

2. Introduce the Phenomenon

Hand out the I See, I Think, I Wonder sheets to students. Show students the picture below and tell them that this picture shows a similar situation to the one that happened nearby, but in a different city. Start by having students write down what they see in the picture in the top row of their paper. Encourage them to write about the whole picture, and only write things they can see directly.


Credit: Tomskyhaha / CC BY-SA

Students should recognize the very hazy sky and buildings on the left side of the picture and the blue sky and clear buildings on the right side of the picture. They may also note the clouds on one side and not the other, and the fact that there are buildings that go across the picture. After students have had some time to write, have them turn to a partner to share what they wrote. Encourage them to add things their partner noticed to their sheets.


Next, have students write down what they think is going on in this image in the middle row of their paper. When they’ve had a chance to write some ideas, have them share with a partner again. They may have a variety of ideas, such as:

  • the picture was altered (ex. colored)

  • the image shows two different places

  • the image shows the same place at different times

  • the left side shows the city on a foggy day and the right side shows the city on a clear day


Finally, have students write down what they wonder about this picture using questions in the bottom row, and again have them share with their partner. Things they may consider:

  • Has this photo been altered in any way?

  • Why is the sky so foggy/cloudy on the left side?

  • Is this all one city?

  • Why does the picture look so different on each side?

  • Where was this photo taken?

Once students have had a chance to share with their partner, give them a chance to share some of the things they saw, thought, and wondered about the picture with the whole group. Acknowledge students’ answers and help them make connections with one another, but do not give away any information about the picture.

Modification: During the I see, I think, I wonder, have students share whole group at the end of each section instead of only once at the end.

The Phenomenon: This image shows the city of Tieling, China, at two different times during a 10-day period in 2019. The left side shows the city shrouded in smog (ground-level ozone), while the right side shows the city on a clear day. Moderate winds and cooler temperatures can keep ozone levels low, so it is not unusual to have very different levels of smog during a relatively short period of time. Smog is still a problem in many US cities, although things have improved. You can find historical photos of Baltimore air pollution here and a photo of DC here.

If you show any of these photos to students, try to keep the pollution connection secret until later in the module.

3. What Could Be Causing This?

Ask students what they think could be causing the city to look this way. Hand out the Investigation Tracker sheet to students, and have them brainstorm some ideas with a partner in the first row (Activity 1). If students struggle to come up with ideas, use questions to help them brainstorm. Possible answers:

  • It is smoky because of a fire

  • It is foggy

  • It is snowing

  • There is something else falling from the sky (ex. volcanic ash)

  • The air is polluted

After they have had time to come up with some ideas, have pairs share with the whole group. Record students’ ideas on chart paper that you can put up and save for the rest of the module. (Note: it will be helpful for Activity 2 if at least one student says that they think it is fog). Have students copy any of their peers’ ideas that they like into the first row. Tell students that they will be using this sheet to track their learning as they complete their investigation.

Teacher Tip: The Investigation Tracker is designed to help students with sensemaking about big concepts from the module. Try to prevent students from just copying down what you write by always having them write first and then adding to their ideas.

Step 4

4. July 9, 2018

Tell students that a similar thing to what they see in left side of the picture happened in the DC area on July 9, 2018. Show them this picture, which shows the White House under a hazy sky (note: it is not nearly as pronounced as in the earlier picture). Tell them that because of this haze, meteorologists called it a “Code Red Day.” Have students imagine that they were in the city that day. What do they think it would have been like? Do they think it would be hot or cold? Rainy or cloudy? Do you think it would be okay to go outside and play on a day like that? Give students a chance to share their ideas about what they think it would have been like. Have them consider how they described what it is like outside today during their warmup, and have them compare this to their description what it would be like on that day in July.


Tell students that during the next few activities, they are going to study this strange thing to see if they can figure out what is going on and whether it is a problem for people.

Connection to Module 1: If you have done Module 1 with students, they may already be making connections here to ozone pollution. This will accelerate their understanding of the phenomenon, but it won’t affect the rest of the module.

5. Formative Assessment

Have students go back to the “I See, I Think, I Wonder” side of their sheets, and identify what big questions they need to answer to understand what’s going on in the picture. Have them put a star or highlight those questions. They may also need to add a question based on what they’ve learned, which they can write in the “Big questions” space. Good big questions might be:

  • What is causing the sky to look hazy in the picture?

  • What was the weather like that day?

  • Is there something in the air that is making the picture look that way?


Use students' I See I Think I Wonder sheets as a formative assessment, either by collecting them to evaluate students' thinking process, or by circulating at the end of class and taking note of what they have written.

Reading: Amelia Draper - Air Quality Champion

Optional homework or in-class reading: Have students read the interview with this module’s Air Quality Champion to help them understand the people who keep us safe from air pollution.

Name: Amelia Draper

Title: Meteorologist, StormTeam 4

Organization: NBC











What is your workday like?

My time each day is spent forecasting the weather, building weather graphics, doing school visits or virtual visits, putting together a climate story and of course giving the forecast on NBC Washington, on social media as well as on WTOP radio. If there is severe weather I run weather crawls and alert the public to the current watches and warnings over social media and


What motivates you to come to work every day?

I love my job! Knowing the forecast and effectively communicating the forecast are two different things. I am always looking to improve my communication of weather so non-meteorologists know what to expect when they step out their door. I also love the creative aspect of making new graphics. 


What education and career path did you pursue to have the position that you have today?

I have a degree in meteorology from Penn State University. If you love math, science and communication, meteorology may be the career for you! I started working in a small television market more than 10 years ago, moved to a medium size television market then got a job in my hometown market of Washington, dream job!


Describe your workspace.

No lab for me! I rely heavily on computers and the internet to make my forecast and weather graphics. I use special websites to look at weather computer models, make weather graphics and create social media posts. After that, it is lights, camera, microphones and green screen!

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am most proud of making it back to my hometown market of Washington DC. I am also proud of a moment where I lost all of my typical weather graphics during a severe weather event and improvised ... viewers barely noticed! 


Is there something important that you want to share that we haven’t asked?

Dream big and ask for help! Get an internship, take some classes that push you out of your comfort zone and don't be afraid to try new things.

Amelia Draper Headshot.jpg

How does your work relate to air quality?

As a television meteorologist, I am considered the station scientist.  I am knowledgeable on most scientific topics, especially as they relate to climate, nature and natural disasters. As people plan their day, knowing the air quality is important and it is my job to tell them that information. Is it a day to stay indoors with poor air quality? Is the air quality impacting people with health issues like asthma and heart disease, or is the air clean and safe to breathe?

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