2. Air is on the Move

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SWBAT describe how the Sun's uneven heating of the Earth causes air to move and form convection currents and global wind patterns.

Big Idea

Students will examine warm air rising and cold air sinking through an investigation to recognize different temperatures cause convection currents and global wind patterns to form and impact weather in an area.

Lesson Overview

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 "How does air move?" lesson provides students an opportunity to discover the rising of warm air and the sinking of cold air by creating a simulation with warm water (dyed red) and cold water (dyed blue) to represent this movement.  We use our discovery to generate an explanation of convection currents and its correlation to air moving. Students will apply their understanding of wind currents by examining a model of a globe displaying global wind patterns and generate responses to a set of questions. 

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 is on the Move, students are provided specific tasks and materials to simulate rising and sinking air. By doing this investigation, students develop an understanding of how convection currents cause wind and lead to global wind patterns and jet streams in the atmosphere. This understanding is needed throughout other lessons within this unit; therefore providing them with the concept of wind, 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.

In connection with this lesson, students develop an understanding of the relationship between the atmosphere and hydrosphere by creating a model of a convection current and diagramming global winds. By understanding this relationship, students will recognize the components and interactions between them that cause weather systems to occur and change in certain areas.

Science & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering Practices.

2.  Developing and Using Models Students create a model to represent the rising of warm air and sinking of cool air.  They also analyze a model displaying global wind patterns to develop an understanding about moving air with the troposphere.  

6.  Constructing explanations: Students will use evidence from the convection current simulation to construct an explanation on how air moves.

8.  Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information:  Using the convection current simulation, Bill Nye video, reading of the text, students will develop reasons for how and why air moves by writing and drawing information learned in the 'picture it' graphic organizer.

Crosscutting Concepts

The lesson "Air is On the Move?" will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include

1.) Patterns: Air patterns are analyzed and used to predict weather systems.

2.) Cause and Effect: The effect of Earth's rotation causes air to move. The Sun heats the Earth unevenly, causing convection currents.

4.) Systems and Models: The movement of air along with Earth's rotation causes convection currents to interact, creating multiple wind patterns.   The model used to display wind patterns illustrates interactions of moving water air, sun, and Earth's rotation.

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


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. 



10 minutes

Today, I begin by asking the students to recall the layer of the atmosphere where weather occurs.  Many hands go up and I call on a student who shares, "the troposhere." I ask other students to give a thumbs up if they agree, thumbs down if they disagree, or thumb to side if they are unsure. 

I ask students to take out their quick write notebook and write the title, “Moving Air" and then display images and two questions on the board.

I selected these images because they illustrate moving air and are examples of objects or experiences students have encountered either in real life or the movies. I tell students to write a response to the questions displayed above images on the slide. The quick write strategy gives students the opportunity to activate their prior knowledge and reflect on what they already know about wind.

As a class, we name each image for clarification and say the questions out loud to make sure everyone understands. After we go over the directions, I say begin quick write While students are writing, I walk around observing written responses and on task.  I notice many students writing about the flag waving around and the kite in the sky. This indicates students prior experience with moving air. After they write, I tell students to turn and talk with their elbow partner adhering to turn and talk norms established at the beginning of the year.

Once a few shares have been heard, I remind students of our unit question, why does weather change? and tell them to think about how moving air might contribute to it. I inform them we about to investigate why air moves and the effects of it. 


30 minutes

I direct students to take their interactive notebook from the center of their table groups and to be ready for their lab rats roles. Then, to set the goal of our task, I ask a student to read the standards board aloud:

"Today we will conduct an investigation on warm air rising and cold air sinking by creating a simulation. We will use our simulation to design a model to illustrate the movement of air."

Here we open our interactive notebook to the next clean page and on the right side we write: Moving Air- input, and paste in the pre-cut Movement of Warm and Cold Water task card from the center of the table. 

Once set up, groups begin the procedure, using their lab rats roles. At that point, I am walking around the room, monitoring groups and making sure everyone is on task. I stop in to listen to a student share what she noticed during the investigation. I also stop at other group discussions and take note of some responses which include "I notice there the red water stays at the top and the blue is at the bottom" "I can see the blue leaking from the ice cube but it just sits at the bottom of the container. I wonder why it isn't going higher." "The blue must be heavier than the red which is why it must be sinking."

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 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.  I begin by asking the "reporter" from each group to report their group observations. Once our shares are complete, I ask the students to think about how we just observed the reaction of different temperatures and connect that to the different air temperatures we experience on a daily basis.  


30 minutes

Following student shares, I instruct students to the front of the room to hear Bill Nye the Science Guy explanation of the different air temperatures creating air to move.


I selected this video because it recaps the simulation on warm and cold air, connecting it how wind, or air moves. While the video is playing, I am observing students actions and reactions. They appear intrigued with the model Bill Nye sets up with the lights and cold air as he further demonstrate how convection currents within the air are created.

Then I hand out the "Photo Finish- How does air move?" graphic organizer and point out the words  displayed on the top of each photo box and engage students in conversation by asking them to recall words from previous lessons. By having students recall details and concepts from previous lessons, provides insight for me on how well the concepts were understood.  Students create descriptions about each one by recording them on the photo finish graphic organizer and further demonstrate their understanding by illustrating each word. I selected the photo finish graphic organizer because it gives students the opportunity to capture what they understand about a topic or concept through writing and drawing. 

After capturing prior knowledge, I ask the students to think back to the simulation and think about how the different temperatures of water interacted. A student recalls the warm water rises and the cold air sinks, I explain to them that was an example of a convection current which the simulation showed. In addition, I explain when particles of air are closer together, they become heavy which is why cold air sinks, their particles are close to together.  On the other hand, when particles are further apart, they are lighter, which is why warm air rises.

I continue to explain, "convection currents are a significant part of our weather system. I pose the questions:  How many of you have been to the beach?"  I see many hands raised so I display the land breeze and sea breeze image through the projector

land breeze  

and resume by explaining the wind people experience at the beach is a result of convection currents as land and sea breezes are created. I define the differences with the image displayed on the board.

Once students develop an understanding on convection currents, land breeze, and sea breeze, I tell the students many convection currents occurring at the same time create global patterns and jet streams.


20 minutes

After our class discussion, I instruct students to take the global winds assignment paper from the center of the table.  As a whole class, I direct them to the global winds model displaying convection currents on the paper; I also display this model through the projector to serve as a reference throughout the assignment.

global windsI ask students to begin examining this model of many convection currents interacting with one another in the atmosphere.  This model provides students with a visual replica of convection currents moving throughout the Earth's atmosphere and illustrates the movement of air as it relates to its position on Earth.

I explain their goal is to analyze the convection currents in the model, collect and record data in the table, develop an understanding about global wind patterns and jet streams, and distinguish between westerlies, trade winds, and easterlies by creating a diagram to illustrate these winds. After stating the goal, I tell them to read the brief synopsis of the global wind and jet streams and complete the data table

As a formative assessment, students show their understanding of global winds and jet streams by diagramming global winds and writing answers to follow up questions. My intention with these questions is for students to understand the impact of global winds in real life by recognizing wind patterns impact direction and speed of pilots  flight plans.

Here is how it looks in the interactive notebook: data table in notebook  global wind patterns in notebook global winds notebook page sample .