Weather Lab

Smithsonian Science Education Center
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Map , Simulation , Tool/Software
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Weather Lab is an online interactive tool, or app, that helps students visualize how North America’s weather is formed in the Spring. The app models the interactions between various air masses and ocean currents and describes probable weather outcomes. Students choose an ocean current and two air masses and the lab describes the characteristics of each. Students then predict the resulting weather conditions from a list of possibilities. When they choose the correct answer, the lab explains the interactions and possible weather. Usually links are provided that display a video clip or a satellite image of actual air masses in motion.  

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Grade 5
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS2-5 Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather conditions.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how air masses flow from regions of high pressure to low pressure, causing weather (defined by temperature, pressure, humidity, precipitation, and wind) at a fixed location to change over time, and how sudden changes in weather can result when different air masses collide. Emphasis is on how weather can be predicted within probabilistic ranges. Examples of data can be provided to students (such as weather maps, diagrams, and visualizations) or obtained through laboratory experiments (such as with condensation).

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include recalling the names of cloud types or weather symbols used on weather maps or the reported diagrams from weather stations.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The interactive lab allows students to choose ocean currents and air masses and predict the changes in weather conditions based on their motions and interactions. When students select the correct forecast, the simulation describes why that type of weather is predicted. Students should document their choices for the ocean currents and air masses and the resulting weather conditions. To better meet the Performance Expectation, the teacher should have students identify recent or real time ocean currents and air masses available at, weather apps, newspapers or other reliable websites and plug the data into the model to verify its prediction. Students should also collect actual weather data to provide evidence for how air masses and interacting air masses bring specific weather conditions.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students select the variables of one ocean current (gyre) along the edge of the North American continent and two air masses and predict the resulting weather in qualitative terms. They should write out their predictions before revealing the answers, or even before they access the simulation. After using the app, they can compare their predictions to those described in the app. The lesson doesn’t address quantitative measures such as the amount of predicted rainfall or wind speed. This aspect of weather forecasting would need to be addressed in another lesson, possibly using forecast maps and gathering real-time data to describe these phenomena.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students predict how weather is influenced by interactions of the ocean and the atmosphere. The impact of sunlight is indirectly included in the temperature of the air and water as it relates to their source regions, but this would need to be highlighted. The teacher could ask about the influence of ice when air masses flow over snow and ice-covered regions. The effects of landforms is alluded to in the moisture content of the air masses. The influence of living things upon weather and climate could be addressed in a lesson on increasing levels of carbon dioxide and climate change. The teacher could ask students how these interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography. For example, “Why are there more tornadoes in Oklahoma than North Dakota?” or “Why are there fewer tornadoes in mountainous regions?” Testing the model’s predictions with actual weather conditions may alleviate the issue of students developing simplistic models of weather predictions, thinking that forecasts are based only on these two factors. The activity needs to be part of a larger unit on the complexity of weather forecasting

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
In Weather Lab, the interactions of ocean gyres and air masses are used to create models of weather systems. Students use these interactions to determine the creation (process) of weather, and the resulting output. Energy and matter flows within systems would need to be addressed in another lesson, such as an investigation of condensation and evaporation.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The lab focuses on the cause and effect relationships between the ocean current and two air masses (cause) and the resulting weather. Students are asked to predict the weather (phenomena) and then see typical results in nature.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students have prior experiences related to the phenomena of weather and the lesson supports their making sense of the phenomena. The lesson contains grade-appropriate elements of the three dimensions, including the science and engineering practice of constructing explanations(although students select one of a set of possible explanations rather than creating their own), the disciplinary core idea of the creation of weather related to the ocean and the atmosphere, and the crosscutting concepts of cause and effect and systems and system models. They work together to support students in three-dimensional learning to make sense of the phenomena of weather prediction.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson engages students in a meaningful context of predicting weather based on certain conditions. It reflects the practice of science in the real world of weather forecasting. The prediction aspect should motivate students to engage in the lesson, although the answers are too easy to determine so teachers might want to use the tool as a demonstration and control the prediction process. The links to satellite images or video clips provide real world phenomena. The lab doesn’t ask students to connect their explanation of a weather phenomenon to a problem to their own experience. The lab doesn’t identify or build on students’ prior knowledge. It uses scientifically accurate and grade-appropriate scientific information, phenomena, and representations to support students’ three-dimensional learning. The opportunities for students to express their ideas are limited to selecting a prediction. They do not clarify, justify, interpret, or represent their ideas in any form. They do not respond to peer and teacher feedback. No guidance is provided to support differentiated instruction in the classroom.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson provides little to no evidence of student progress. It is easy for students to get the right answer by continually selecting choices until they get the right one, so it is difficult for the teacher to assess student progress. A solution to this problem would be to provide students with the possible scenarios they will look at and have them make predictions in advance of using the application. They could then record the outcomes of each scenario and compare to their original predictions. No formative assessments are included.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The tool does not involve true technological interactivity; although they use a simulation that requires the use of technology, it is not interactive.