3. Air Masses and Fronts Meet in the Sky...Oh My!

79 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT explain what happens when air masses meet in the air and how it affects local weather in an area

Big Idea

Students will forecast weather in a certain area on a map by identifying and collecting data on the air masses present in that area to determine weather


5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Lesson Synopsis

The Air Masses and Fronts Meet in the Sky...Oh my! lesson provides students and opportunity to identify four air masses and develop an understanding of what happens when air masses meet by creating a model to represent this interaction  Students apply their understanding to by collection data from a weather map displaying front system to make weather predictions for particular areas in the United States. 

Why do I teach this lesson?

Many of students have limited science background as they have not had formal science instruction prior to entering middle school; therefore I incorporate directed inquiry tasks within many parts of this unit. In this lesson, Air Masses and Fronts Meet in Sky, students are provided specific tasks and materials to simulate a moving front. By doing this investigation, students develop an understanding of how a warm front and cold front interact and cause changes in the atmosphere. This understanding is needed throughout other lessons within this unit; therefore providing them with this experience, students are prepared to further investigate how weather happens and why it changes.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address the following NGSS Standard(s): 

5-ESS-2 Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.

Students will apply their understanding of wind currents by creating a model of a warm front and cold front meeting in the atmosphere.  By examining this model, they apply the information to reading a weather map displaying warm and cold front symbols and make predication based on them.

Science & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering Practices.

2.  Developing and Using Models: Students will create a model to represent warm and cold air colliding and use it to predict weather phenomena.

6.  Constructing explanations: Students will use evidence from the colliding air masses simulation to construct an conclusion on what happens when air masses meet and will use this conclusion to predict weather in a given area.

8.  Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information:  Using the air properties, air masses colliding investigation, video note taking reference sheet to predict weather by analyzing a weather map displaying symbols in a given area.

Crosscutting Concepts

The lesson Air Masses and Fronts Meet in the Sky...Oh my! will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include

1.) Patterns: Weather can be predicted based on air masses meeting and fronts forming.

2.) Cause and Effect: Understanding the relationship between colliding air masses  \can be used to explain changes in weather.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

ESS2.D Weather and Climate: Climate describes patterns of typical weather conditions over   different scales and variations.  Weather patterns can be predicted, observed, and analyzed.



Classroom Management

Modeling to Develop Student Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This will set up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during the activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirecting.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


For time management purposes, I use “lab rats roles” I introduce these roles this at the beginning of the year. I model each role and provide students' opportunities to practice each role with a group during an investigation or lab.  It has proven successful within my classroom keeping students engaged and on task.

Each student has a number on the back of his or her chair, 1,2,3,4 (students sit in groups of 4)and displayed on the board.  For each explore activity, I switch up the roles randomly so students are experiencing different task responsibilities which include: Director, Materials Manager, Reporter, and Technician.  It makes for smooth transitions and efficiency for set up, work, and clean-up. 


15 minutes

To begin, I recap what we have discovered about air so far and inform the students we are launching our lesson with a demonstration because it involves a hot plate.

I start off by telling the students we are circling up around the front table for a demonstration that involves hot, boiling water.

boiling water

Before I give them permission to circle up, I ask students to raise their hand to remind us of 3 safety rules that we need to consider for this activity and ask other students to respond with a thumbs up if they agree.

Once, I note everyone has a thumbs up, at the table, I execute the familiar phenomenon probe strategy, by asking students to think about "how they have felt on a humid day?  I use the quick pick bucket to randomly ask three students to share.  We note the feelings shared: "sticky and sweaty,"  "super hot and hard to breathe because it is so hot."  "You sweat without even moving. You walk outside and boom, you're all wet and sweaty.  And you can never seem to get cool, well unless you have an air conditioner or a pool.

Next, I direct them to the cover and ask them "what will happen when I take the lid off the pot?" I instruct them to turn to a neighbor to tell them his or her prediction.   I randomly call one person to share, and ask for a thumbs up from others if they agree or thumbs up if they disagree. I note all students have a thumbs up. After predictions, I model for students how they are to use their hand to safely feel the air above the boiling water.  I ask students to tell us What did I do? and Why did I do it that way?  

Once we all understand the expectation, I call one student at a time. After each student experienced the air above the boiling water, I instruct them to go back to their seat and share their experience with at least two out of the four group members. When all students have had the chance to experience the air, we hold a class discussion on "Why the air felt hot and humid?" I noted several shares from our discussion.  

"I think the water that went into the air, is what made the air feel wet."

"I remember when we learned about the water cycle, that heat can make water evaporate into the air and that you can feel it but not see it."

"I think that one spot (the air above the boiling water) felt like a hot summer day when you just sweat and feel sticky all day long."


30 minutes

After recapping concepts we have discovered in the last few lessons, I direct students to take their interactive notebook from the center of their group tables to record our observations and thinking as we create a model of a moving air mass that shows a frontal system in action. In order to set the goal of our task today, I ask a student to read the standards board aloud:

"Today we will conduct an investigation on moving air fronts to discover what happens when air masses meet. Later we will use our investigation notes to analyze a weather map illustrating fronts symbols to identify and predict weather in certain areas based on the air mass data presented on a map."

Here, students set up interactive notebook by pasting the moving air masses task card in on the input page. Then I review lab rats roles to complete the task card. The  director  checks in with their group by asking if everyone understands the task.  He or she then instructs the material manager to retrieve the supplies tray to complete the task.  

Once groups are set up, I remind the technician they are monitoring the measurements of water and oil. While groups begin hypothesizing and following the task card directions, and creating their simulation, I am walking around the room, monitoring and checking in with groups. 

After conducting the simulation, I reiterate that output questions noted on the task card are to be done on their output page in their interactive notebook.  I remind students to use their model to answer their questions and to work as a group to engage in a discussion about each one. While students are working, I am walking around checking in with groups.

Following the activity, I regroup students as a whole class to share outcomes.


15 minutes

After listening from group reporters, I instruct students to take the air masses four square t-chart from the center of the table and direct them to the front of the room to view studyjams, an interactive video that summarizes the key concepts of air masses and fronts.

I selected this video because it presents a summary of four types of air masses students are investigating. The animation, music, and graphics keep students attention and entertained. While the video is playing, I am observing students actions and reactions. They appear attentive to the characters as they explain the differences between the four air masses: maritime polar air, continental polar air, maritime tropical air, and continental tropical air and define a warm front and cold front. This video connects air masses formation . It uses a "snow day" to further explain the the interaction and effects of air masses. Snow days are relevant to students in my area, New England, since we have them often each winter.

I stop the video after each key points is made. I ask the students to record the information about each key word in the correct  box of the four square. I tell them we are creating a reference sheet to use as we analyze weather symbols on a map. After viewing the video,  I ask students to regroup and share what they learned with the other group members.  

For a quick check in and review, I engage students into a quick discussion about what they have learned. I do this before moving on so students can summarize their learning and make connections to our goal of learning what makes weather and what causes it to change?  By checking in, I can also use their responses to differentiate instruction as we move forward.  

After our class check in and discussion, I instruct students to keep their reference sheet on their desk as so they can apply what they have learned about air masses and fronts by reading and analyzing a weather map. 


25 minutes

Here, I move students into applying concepts from our investigation activity and vocabulary. First, I turn students attention to the board by using the projector to display Maps- Fronts.

map with fronts

I explain to students that meteorologists use symbols, as seen on this map, to predict incoming fronts that bring in temperature changes and other weather events. 

After explaining the map symbols used by meteorologists to forecast fronts, I hand out "You are a Meteorologist" assignment.  I tell them they have been hired as a meteorologist to forecast weather in the United States by the Weather Channel, a TV station that provides national and local weather forecasts for areas.  

I continue explaining that they are applying what they learned about air masses and fronts earlier in the lesson complete this assignment. I go on outlining the rest of the assignment by reviewing the task listed on the "You are a Meteorologist" assignment.

I explain they are locating four pre-selected cities on a map and use the data table to record information like about each one.  I hold up reference sheets with air masses and vocabulary they can use as a resource. I wrap up directions by sharing they are using the data from the table on one city to write a paragraph about the anticipated weather for that area.  

I give the students seat choice, allowing them to find a spot in the room to help them focus and be on task. After a few students move, I direct the students to begin. While students are working, I am walking around the room, monitoring their work habits, and clarifying any questions that arise or if I notice inaccuracies in their data table.  Students work for the remainder of the class time. This assignment continues tomorrow.

Add student samples