Have you ever wished you could know the future? Even though no one can know exactly what’s going to happen before it does, that doesn’t stop people from making guesses—or predictions—about what they think might happen.
- We hear lots of different kinds of predictions. Can you think of a few? (Possible answers: Sports games, elections or other public events, weather.)
- Have you ever heard a prediction, or guess about the future, that surprised you when it came true? (Give the students a few minutes to share. You may want to provide an example of your own.)
There are lots of different kinds of predictions, and some are more reliable than others. Scientists are very good at predicting certain events like eclipses, comets, and meteor showers. On the other hand, people who claim to know who will win a particular game or race are usually just guessing.
One of the most common kinds of predictions is the ever-present weather update! Meteorologists do their best using computers and satellites in space to try to figure out whether it will be hot or cold, rainy or sunny, windy or calm. Of course, they don’t always get it right—and things can change rapidly and unexpectedly.
Play this video for the students [3:55].
Heather’s Weather Whys: Why are you always wrong?
- According to the reporter on the video, weather predictions have a higher rate of accuracy than other professions that forecast the future—but there is always the element of error. She mentioned the “chaos theory.” Can anyone explain what the chaos theory is? (Allow brief discussion. Students may be able to answer from the information given on the video or may remember a reference to chaos theory from the movie Jurassic Park.)
According the video, “chaos theory” means that at some point there is a limit to how far out you can predict things because a random fluctuation somewhere can lead to big changes which get bigger and bigger as you get farther out in time. Almost like knocking down a domino—one random thing can start a chain reaction which will change the outcome. That means that what might be easier to predict about tomorrow will be almost impossible to predict about next year.
Making accurate predictions is hard, even when it’s only a few days in advance. But there were many predictions about one event that were made many hundreds—even thousands—of years in advance. And they were exactly right! Let’s learn more.