Reflection: Connection to Prior Knowledge 1. Up, Up and Away! Exploring the Layers of the Atmosphere - Section 2: Engage


I decided to use a "card sort" activity as an activator for the first lesson of the weather and climate unit so I can determine students previous knowledge and identify any misconceptions. I give the students a set of cards with atmosphere descriptors on them and ask the students to arrange them under the layers of atmosphere matrix headings. I find the card sort activity an effective way for students to visually display their understanding of the layers of the atmosphere.  By visually displaying their previous knowledge, I, as the teacher, can quickly identify students understanding of the atmosphere. After sorting their cards, I ask students to turn and talk with their elbow partner about the arrangement of cards.  They are directed to  justify their arrangement to their partner but to also consider the ideas of others.  This kind of conversation promotes learning because it helps students activate their prior knowledge, "practice skills of scientific argument, and modify their original ideas, as new information persuades them." The combination the card sort and turn and talk is a great way to develop and promote student discussions. For me as a teacher, it provides a quick overview of students thinking, what they know and don't know.  For example, most students used the layers of the atmosphere graphic organizer headings with pictures to make connections in order to place a descriptor cards.  The one card everyone had correct was the "all weather occurs in this layer..." under the troposphere.  I asked one student how he determined it belonged in the troposhere. He stated, "because the picture of the cloud with rain under that heading is a kind of weather, so I saw the weather word in the description so i figured it belonged there." Another student said she put the "meteors burn up in this layer" under the heading mesosphere because she knew the picture under the title was a meteor falling, so she made the connection they went together. She also stated after she placed that card there, she decided the card "coldest layers of the atmosphere" went in that column too. She said she made that decision because meteors burn like a candle and a candle can sometimes burn out in cold air.  This indicated she was aware of the effects of air temperature. Overall, I found the card sort activity revealed students' abilities to transfer prior knowledge to a topic. 


Keeley, Page. (2008) Science Formative Assessment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. 

  Card Sort Activity
  Connection to Prior Knowledge: Card Sort Activity
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1. Up, Up and Away! Exploring the Layers of the Atmosphere

Unit 1: Weather
Lesson 1 of 9

Objective: SWBAT distinguish the layers of the atmosphere and develop an understanding of where weather takes place.

Big Idea: Students will create a model of the layers of the atmosphere, plot the altitude of each layer on a graph, and write and/or draw features of each layer on this graph.

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