Tracking Climate in Your Backyard

4-H Tracking Climate in Your Backyard curriculum


The Paleontological Research Institution and the 4-H Youth Development program at Cornell Cooperative Extension have developed a curriculum on weather and climate for upper elementary and secondary school youth: Tracking Climate in Your Backyard.


Development of this curriculum was part of a project made possible through funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF 0808122). Project materials and curriculum are free to download for use by anyone, though focus is placed on informal science activities for 8-12 year old youth with extended science project ideas for science fairs or 4-H fairs.

The purpose of this project was to encourage youth, specifically ages 8-12, to better understand the scientific process by engaging them in the collection of meaningful meteorological data in their community. In this way, youth develop an understanding of scientific methods and standardization, and by recording and sharing their data through a citizen science project, they recognize the importance of accurate data collection. The citizen science portion of the project involved youth collecting precipitation data as part of CoCoRaHS (the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network) for scientific analysis and for issuance of severe storm warnings and flash flooding events.

Using the Curriculum

The Tracking Climate in Your Backyard curriculum has been designed for use in conjunction with participation in CoCoRaHS. However, each activity can be performed regardless of CoCoRaHS participation, and have been designed to stand alone, without the aid of other activities in the curriculum or their extensions. Because climate is a complex topic, consisting of weather — i.e. temperature, rain, snow, and the hydrologic cycle — as it occurs in a region over decades, lessons are built to explain the short-term and long-term effects of the different topics in your community.

The underlying theme of the entire curriculum is the role of the water cycle. There is a finite supply of water on the planet; it controls our climate, provides us with drinking water and recreation, and is home to vast numbers of species. Understanding the water cycle helps connect weather, climate, biodiversity loss, and environmental awareness, which is much needed for the youth of today as they prepare to be the scientifically conscious society of tomorrow.

This project certainly did not aim to re-invent the wheel, and many activities are adapted from other sources. What makes this program unique lies in the discussion section of the activities; the real ‘meat’ of the science is dissected in a user-friendly way in the discussion section, and highlights the ways in which these activities relate to a changing climate. Also, CoCoRaHS extension activities suggest ways to look at information learned in an activity from another perspective, and conduct your own scientific investigation.