Passive design heat domes | BCHydro Power Smart for Schools
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Passive design for heat domes

Explore the challenges of extreme weather environments, especially on vulnerable populations and learn about passive design solutions.

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30 mins


Students will explore the challenges of extreme environments and weather events on Earth, and how it affects different populations. They'll also learn about passive design solutions with an interactive game.


What you'll need

  • "Western Canada heat dome" article, one per groups of 2-3
  • Laptop and projector screen
  • "Passive design" slideshow

  1. Before starting this activity, complete “Moving to Mars”. Discuss how humans are researching the possibility of human colonies on Mars, which is an extreme environment with many challenges. 
  2. Share that many people experience, adapt, and survive in extreme environments here on Earth. Ask students if they can think of examples of places on Earth where it's difficult to survive. Some examples may include deserts, like the Sahara, or extremely cold and dry places, like Antarctica. They can also include extreme weather events, like living through hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, blizzards, ice storms, and heat domes.
  3. Ask students if they've experienced extreme weather events like the B.C. heat dome in June, 2021, or an extreme cold weather event? 
  4. Place students in small groups of two or three. Provide each group a copy of the “Western Canada heat dome” article and have them read it.
  5.  Discuss with students their learnings and let them consider who might be more affected by extreme weather, like people who are homeless, elderly, living alone, or have health issues. Can we prepare for these types of events, increase resiliency and protect the more vulnerable. 
  6. Explain that as the climate changes, we're likely to see more extreme weather events around the world, so we need to prepare for them and be ready to help our communities when they happen. 
  7. On the board write these questions:
    • Who are more vulnerable people in our community?
    • How can we support the vulnerable in an extreme weather event?
  8. Ask them to brainstorm answers to these questions with their group and let them record their answers on the board or a sheet of paper.
  9. Now that they reflected on actions they can take to help  communities, tell students that they'll now explore passive design solutions. Share that passive design means 'to optimize the use of natural light, nature and air movement to maintain a comfortable environment'. This reduces the need for energy to light, heat, or cool the space.
  10. Open the “Passive design” slideshow to play a game focusing on simple and inexpensive ways that we can stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Most are passive solutions but a couple of slides include tips on efficiently using energy for heating and cooling.
    • On slide 2, there's a scale, showing one side as too hot, one side as too cold, and the middle as just right. Assign a place in the classroom for each rating. 
    • Tell students that you'll present a scenario and they must move to the place in the room they think it matches. For example, if it says to turn up the heat in the summer, they will move to the side that matches ‘too hot'. 
    • Each slide is followed by the answer and a short explanation. 
  11. Discuss some of the solutions that came up in the slideshow. Are there any that students could do right away at home, without any new equipment or technology?
  12. Wrap up the activity by challenging students to use one of the simple passive solutions immediately, and to have them discuss it with others.

Modify or extend this activity

  • Pull up the “Marketing solutions for extreme weather” activity to create a public service announcement and help others learn about how to prepare for extreme weather events
  • Identify First Peoples perspectives and knowledge to survive in harsh environments.

Curriculum Fit

Science 6

Big idea

The solar system is part of the Milky Way, which is one of billions of galaxies

  • Inquiry questions: What is an extreme environment? What extreme environments exist on Earth or in our galaxy?

Curricular competencies

Questioning and predicting
  • Demonstrate a sustained curiosity about a scientific topic or problem of personal interest 
  • Make observations in familiar or unfamiliar contexts 
Processing and analyzing data and information
  • Experience and interpret the local environment 
  • Identify First Peoples perspectives and knowledge as sources of information 
  • Identify some of the social, ethical, and environmental implications of the findings from their own and others’ investigations 
Applying and innovating
  • Contribute to care for self, others, and community through personal or collaborative approaches 
  • Transfer and apply learning to new situations 
  • Generate and introduce new or refined ideas when problem solving 
  • Communicate ideas, explanations, and processes in a variety of ways 
  • Express and reflect on personal, shared, or others’ experiences of place

Social studies 6

Big ideas

Media sources can both positively and negatively affect our understanding of important events and issues


  • Media technologies and coverage of current events
  • Global poverty and inequality issues, including class structure and gender

Curricular competencies

  • Use Social Studies inquiry processes and skills to — ask questions; gather, interpret, and analyze ideas; and communicate findings and decisions
  • Develop a plan of action to address a selected problem or issue

Teaching Notes

Heat dome

A heat dome occurs when the atmosphere traps hot ocean air like a lid or cap. Click the link to for a visual representation of heat domes.

Climate change

Scientists agree that extreme weather events like heat domes will be more common as the climate continues to change. Past events have shown that certain populations are more vulnerable to extreme weather events, which can lead to illness or death. Social isolation, whether because of age, not knowing neighbours, not having family, not speaking the same language, stigma and many other factors, may mean that someone cannot reach out for help if they are struggling.  Low-income communities often have fewer green spaces and shaded areas, making it harder to cool off in the summer. People with chronic illness and disabilities are more vulnerable when extreme weather events occur. Helping students to identify vulnerable populations in their communities and come up with plans on how to help them in an emergency, builds resilient communities, and resilient communities can recover from emergencies more quickly. 

For more information on community resilience and preparing for extreme events:


  • Assess students’ reading ability and understanding 
  • Assess students’ ability to comprehend and explain why vulnerable populations would be more affected by extreme weather events
  • Assess students’ participation and cooperation during brainstorming and games


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