The Forecast Factory

Teaching Materials by John A. Knox for the Goddard Institute of Space Studies - Starting Point page by R.E. Teed (SERC).
Author Profile
This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Initial Publication Date: August 10, 2006


The Forecast Factory is an introduction to the topic of weather forecasting. Students role-play the various elements in forecasting process such as equations, announcers, data analysts, and airplanes. By following the script, the students will summarize the entire process in a single period. This lesson plan is well suited to large classes in lecture-hall settings. A discussion and summary of this teaching method are provided, as well as extensions to other topics, such as global climate modeling.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

The author lists 10 objectives for this lesson:
  1. Enhance comprehension and retention through an active learning format.
  2. Excite and involve students who find passive lectures stifling.
  3. Take advantage of the underused space in theater-like lecture halls.
  4. Convert the disadvantage of large class sizes into an advantage.
  5. Cover the entire weather forecasting process in one class session.
  6. Link modern weather forecasting to its historical roots.
  7. Emphasize the scientific nature of modern weather forecasting.
  8. Highlight the importance of observation in modern science.
  9. Portray the interconnection in science between observation, theory, and computing.
  10. Reinforce the importance of negative results or "failures" in advancing science

Context for Use

This highly choreographed demonstration is intended to introduce and summarize the entire process of weather forecasting. It takes only one class period, works best with 50-75 students, and requires a large lecture hall.

Description and Teaching Materials

The original site describes the lesson in four acts and includes historical background and plenty of links for more. It also has a decent bibliography, and evaluation results.

This activity works best with props (substitutions are possible):

  • 6 helium balloons with long cords - for radiosonde operators
  • Flashlight - for radar
  • Binoculars - for satellite
  • Travel posters for each of the Earth's continents and oceans
  • Baton - for conductor
  • 6 Weather maps
  • Blank maps
  • 2 sets of shock absorbers, brush, and gloves - NMC Data Initializers
  • 7 sets with a blank, 4-panel map & Xerox of real 4-panel forecast, pencil, paper, calculator - NMC Numbercrunchers
  • Balance scale (home-made) - Continuity Equation

Teaching Notes and Tips

The instructor will want to look the exercise over carefully and fill in the rest of the script. There are only four role cards are provided and there are 13 roles. Each role card includes "Where go", "You need", "What do" and "In real life", effectively holding the whole script for the character.


None, as this is a lecture substitute.

References and Resources

The props list calls for sample weather maps, available at a number of sites:

These sites will also be useful later in the course as they tend to have nice graphical explanations of the forces that drive weather.

Supplemental AV/research material can be found with the help of NOAA's downloadable Resource Listing for Weather and Climate Instruction. For intro courses, USA Today has a basic Guide to the Science of the Atmosphere online.