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Predicting Patterns: What Does La Niña Look Like?

Cynthia M. Fadem, InTeGrate; SERC

This is an activity designed to allow students who have been exposed to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation to analyze the La Niña mechanism and predict its outcomes in a case study format.

Activity takes about 30 minutes.

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • This activity can stand alone or be combined with other activities that are connected to this one. Educators can use the parts that are most relevant to their situation.
  • Consider discussing the answers to the summary questions with the group instead of having students answer them individually.
  • This activity can be paired with another case study that examines the global impacts of ENSO https://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/teaching_materials/climate_change/casestudy3-2.html.
  • Teaching notes and tips are included in the activity overview.

About the Science

  • This is a two-part activity on ENSO. In the first half, El Niño (ENSO+) and ENSO normal conditions are identified by sea surface temperature (SST) expressions. ENSO mechanics are used to create a SST map for La Niña as an expression of the ENSO system rather than as a separate phenomenon. In the second half, precipitation maps for all three ENSO conditions (El Niño, ENSO normal, La Niña) are predicted based upon the previous SST maps.
  • This activity builds on basic knowledge of El Niño processes and helps students understand the three phases of ENSO: El Niño, La Niña, and normal.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    - Excellent resource, short and to the point, great simplified explanation of both El Nino and La Nina, easy to read graphic, great use of "negative" and "positive" phases

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity stands out from similar ones in how it asks students to make predictive sketches about what they expect sea surface temperatures to look like during La Niña, and to estimate precipitation patterns during all three phases of ENSO. From there, students can consider other impacts of ENSO on fisheries, flooding, and droughts.
  • The open-ended nature of this activity engages students by asking them to make predictions for various phases of ENSO. While some students may get stuck with these tasks, the activity provides a series of suggestions to help them work through it. The sequence of questions build students' analytical skills as they consider cause and effect. Because of the higher-order thinking employed here, this activity will help students understand the mechanics of ENSO without becoming bogged down in the technicalities.
  • Background information about ENSO is linked to this activity. These materials include lecture notes, lecture slides, a reading, and a study guide.
  • Student resources and an instructor's guide are provided, although the guide contains limited information on assessing student work and does not contain formal answers since the questions are open-ended.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity is well thought out and carefully described. All of the materials and included and each step of the process is thoroughly documented.
  • High-quality supplemental materials are linked from the activity, including lecture slides, a reading, and a study guide.
  • References and resources provide useful background information.

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