Building an understanding of the local environment

By the end of this Unit your students will understand how local landscape may influence snowfall and snowpack.

Unit Overview

Now that students have a general sense of snowfall and snowpack, they will begin to think about how the local environment may affect snowfall and snowpack. The role these environmental factors play in snowfall and snowpack may drive the student research questions, therefore students must become aware of their local environment as a study site. The activity in this Unit is devoted to immersing the students in their local environment from the perspective of a researcher.


Weather and climate affect more than just air temperature. Different aspects of the environment do as well. And they all affect snowpack. The local conditions also feed back into the local weather and the local climate. It can be difficult to see the landscape as a set of conditions that influence snowpack, yet from the experience of most Maine students (waiting for the bus, hanging out during recess, or being active during the winter) there are differences. After a wintery thaw followed by a freeze there may be a crust on the snow in a field, but in the woods it may be that the whole snowpack has turned to mush with no crust. Those experiential ideas need to be called upon, as well as other environmental factors, to allow students to form their research questions.


Students understand that:

  • There are landscape factors that influence snowfall and snowpack
  • There are regional factors that influence snowfall and snowpack
  • Snowpack changes through the winter

Instructional Strategies

Activity 1: ‘Mapping your study area’ is a field reconnaissnace trip to map your school site as a field site.

Activity 2: ‘Defining questions’ involves sharing the field site with other project teams and proposing some potential research questions.