Prevailing Winds & The Jet Stream

21 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT define and identify prevailing winds, and explain how the Coriolis effect manipulates global wind patterns (including on the ESRT) | SWBAT define and identify jet streams and the effect they have on “storm tracks” as they move across the atmosphere

Big Idea

This lesson incorporates some videos, in addition to an image used in their Earth Science Reference tables, to have them analyze the major wind belts that form as a result of the uneven heating of the Earth and the Coriolis Effect

Lesson Introduction

This lesson prevailing winds and the jet streams introduces storm tracking, and the concept of how planetary winds are the result of giant convection cells (in addition to the Earth's rotation) that circulate in the atmosphere over the Earth. The lesson starts with a brief explanation into flight times (that students always find interesting), a quick video, and some textual analysis before we jump into some Regents-based practice work to cement these newfound concepts. 

[Note: For embedded comments, checks for understanding (CFUs), and key additional information on transitions and key parts of the lesson not necessarily included in the below narrative, please go to the comments in the following document: 5.10 - Prevailing Winds (Whole Lesson w/comments). Additionally, if you would like all of the resources together in a PDF document, that can be accessed as a complete resource here: 5.10 - Prevailing Winds & Jet Stream (Whole Lesson)[PDF]. Finally, students may need their Earth Science Reference Tables [ESRT] for parts of the lesson (a document used widely in the New York State Earth Science Regents course) as well.]

Do Now & Objectives

10 minutes

Students come in silently and complete the (attached) Do Now. In this case, the Do Now is a review of material from Unit 3 (Geologic History), in addition to some material from earlier on in the unit. After time expires (anywhere from 2-4 minutes depending on the type of Do Now and number of questions), we collectively go over the responses (usually involving a series of cold calls and/or volunteers), before I call on a student and ask them to read the objective out loud to start the lesson.

As a general note, the Do Now serves a few purposes:

  1. It serves as a general review of the previous day's material;
  2. It is a re-activation of student knowledge to get them back into "student mode" and get them thinking about science after transitioning from another content area or alternate class;
  3. as a strategy for reviewing material students have struggled with (for example, using this as a focused review for material that they have struggled with on unit assessments or recent quizzes); and,
  4. It is an efficient and established routine for entering the classroom that is repeated each day with fidelity (I never let students enter the classroom talking. While it may seem potentially severe to have students enter silently each day, this is both a school wide expectation and a key component of my classroom. In many respects, I find that students readily enjoy the focus that starting with a quiet classrooms brings each day).

Introduction & Video

10 minutes

Post Do Now, the lesson starts with the first page of the Introduction & Video resource, which involves students looking at the disparity in flight times on a flight that I'm taking to San Francisco. After introducing what's happening (my flying across the country), I ask them to hone in on the actual flight times - they can see in both images that the SFO - JFK route is notably shorter than the JFK - SFO route. I ask them why this is and take a few responses (in all the classes that I gave, none were able to get it). I then indicate that we're going to confirm exactly what it is that caused this to happen later on in the lesson as we transition to the next page. 

On the next page of the Introduction & Video, we start the learning off with a brief YouTube video (which is embedded below):

I don't play the video in its entirety (up until right before the 4-minute mark), but think the visual description of the jet stream is an important concept for students to see. The video also answers the question from the previous page - students know that airplanes that "ride" the west-to-east jet stream tend to go faster than airplanes going the opposite direction. Usually, I'll play the video twice (so students are bogged down in finding all the facts the first time, where they tend to miss the important visuals in the video), after which we'll go over the notes in the Introduction & Video resource.

After this, we focus in on the image on the bottom page, which is also on Page 14 of their Earth Science Reference Tables. We then do a series of brief CFUs that deal with students having the ability to correctly interpret this image (which they'll end up using a lot later!) - the comments are embedded in the Word document in the Lesson Introduction above, but I'll usually pick a latitude and ask something such as: "If I were standing at 35 degrees N latitude, where would the prevailing winds be coming from?" We then label the jet streams in the student ESRTs and label the rising, less dense air currents (like over the Equator) with an "L" to signify it as an area of low pressure. Conversely, we do the same in labeling the sinking, denser areas of air with an "H," to indicate areas of higher pressure. 

Prevailing Winds & The Jet Stream

10 minutes

The next section, provided in the Prevailing Winds & The Jet Stream resource, asks students to break down some textual information that they previously saw presented in the video in the earlier section. In this case, they get a chance to read the text for themselves and explore some of the deeper scientific concepts presented. There is a more in-depth explanation of both the prevailing winds and the jet stream, and a more thorough presentation of the Coriolis Effect that the video only briefly touches on. As indicated in the embedded comments (see the Word document for more context in the Lesson Introduction section), there are some CFUs planted throughout the text to have students think and reflect on what they just read. 

As far as classroom logistics, we use a "Control the Game" reading strategy - I've explained it a few times in previous lessons, but the bulk of it consists of my either using popsicle sticks (with student names) or randomly calling on students to read, while all other students follow along. At any time during this out loud reading, I can call on someone else to pick up, who has the responsibility of reading out loud for the class wherever the last person stopped reading. I do this when I think it's important to do a whole class concept review (such as is necessary with the Coriolis Effect, which many students find initially confusing) or I want to more fully comprehend how well students are "getting it". See the reflection in this section for a bit more context here!


20 minutes

The Practice section in this lesson is, like the vast majority of questions found in all of my classwork and homework, is 100% Regents-based. All of the questions come from prior Regents examinations. Likewise, as I try to generally do with all of my lessons, the questions are mostly organized to get increasingly more difficult and increase in complexity, which is why the harder questions tend to come toward the end. 

In terms of student work habits, I tend to sometimes make this decision in the moment, and as a response of what I know about the students and how they're processing the material on, but I'll either ask them to work independently, in partners, or (sometimes) give them the option. Usually, before starting practice, we tend to go over some steps for self-help ("What should you do if you're stuck?"), and I might reference a previously used multiple-choice or free response strategy in order to build their skills while simultaneously learning content (as an example - one popular one we always use - "If you aren't sure what the right answer is, see if you can eliminate some wrong answer choices"). I tend to circulate for compliance and then hone in on specific students while they're doing this. 

After about 10 minutes, we go over their responses. Students who finish early are encouraged to work on the exit ticket (resource below) and double-check their responses. We use a combination of strategies (active voting, cold calling, popsicle sticks, volunteers) to go over the responses, where students correct their work and ask any clarifying questions. 

Exit Ticket & Closing

5 minutes

In the last few minutes of class, I have students complete the daily Exit Ticket. For the sake of time, I have students grade them communally, with a key emphasis on particular questions and items that hit on the key ideas of the lesson (Note: This usually manifests as students self-grading, or having students do a "trade and grade" with their table partners). After students grade their exit tickets, they usually pass them in (so that I can analyze them) and track their exit ticket scores on a unit Exit Ticket Tracker. 

After students take a few seconds to track their scores, we usually wrap up in a similar way. I give students time to pack up their belongings, and I end the class at the objective, which is posted on the whiteboard, and ask students two questions:

  1. Do you feel that you mastered the objective for the day?
  2. Can you reiterate one thing you learned about (in this case, information on the jet streams and prevailing winds, etc.)?

Once I take 2-3 individual responses (sometimes I'll ask for a binary "thumbs up/thumbs down" or something similar), I have students leave once the bell rings.