Insolation Factors

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SWBAT identify texture, color, time of day, and atmospheric particles as factors that affect the intensity of insolation

Big Idea

Dark-colored and fought surface objects absorb the most insolation, while light-colored and smooth surfaces are better at reflecting insolation. This (and a few other minor variables) affect how much insolation an area receives

Lesson Introduction

In this lesson, students examine particular characteristics that affect insolation, most notably things like: texture and color of the ground, the presence of atmospheric particles, and time of day. As this is a fact-based lesson (what I mean by that is that students need to walk away from this lesson with about 4 key principles down pat - there are no tables or charts in their Earth Science Reference Tables [ESRT] that can readily assist them. The key takeaways are (they're also featured below in different parts of the narrative:

  1. Dark-colored, rough surfaces absorb more insolation, as they have properties that better absorb (as opposed to reflect) sunlight - this locally increases energy (and temperature)
  2. Conversely, light-colored and smooth surfaces (think snow) are much better at reflecting insolation, which lowers the energy an overall area receives
  3. As atmospheric particles (like ash or pollutants) increase in the atmosphere, transparency decreases- which lowers the amount of insolation reaching the Earth's surface
  4. Time of day and the Sun's angle in the sky have a huge effect on insolation; The higher the Sun in the sky, the more direct and stronger the insolation is

All of these have ultimately determine how much insolation is absorbed and re-radiated as infrared energy. This lesson introduces the content via a text that students tackle together, which is followed with some standalone practice work to help them cement the ideas they're learning. Other than the above-mentioned information, there should be no special materials or equipment needed for this lesson.

[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: 4.8 - Insolation II [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: 4.8 - Insolation II [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 & Objective(s)

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 preparation for the upcoming interim assessment. 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; (again, this is a bit different, as they are reviewing for the quarterly Interim Assessment)
  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).

Insolation Factors

20 minutes

The Insolation Factors students are presented with in this section are:

  • Color
  • Surface texture
  • Time of day
  • Presence of atmospheric particles or pollutant


The lesson itself starts with us covering the definition of insolation (see the first page of the Insolation Factors resource). We then cover/review (this particular class had previously learned about waves, wave types, and methods of travel, so I didn't feel the need to cover this in depth). the concept of refraction (light bending as its velocity is affected by traveling through another medium) and reflection (light bouncing off a substance at the same angle it hit) [Note: If you need to, you can use a fish tank or a plastic container filled with water to demonstrate refraction by having students put objects (wooden spoons, utensils, etc.) they're holding into the suspended water. When they look at it from above and from the side, they can see that the object looks "broken" as it enters the water, demonstrating the bending of light waves as light enters the water].

They are then tasked to read the information in partners/groups together, and answer the embedded comprehension/check for understanding questions in the Insolation Factors resource. This part is relatively self-guided by students, and I only monitor for compliance while students collectively work their way through the next few pages of the resource. As noted above, the insolation factors they need to remember are all presented here. Generally speaking, the Regents examination only asks them (this can be confirmed by looking in the Practice resource below) binary questions to the tune of - "which type of surface will produce more or less insolation." There are no necessary connecting or guiding principles in this content - it's just one of those "fact" based lessons students need the time and space to wrap their heads around. 

Once students are done with the reading (they don't need much time - I generally allot about 6-7 minutes for this), we collectively go over the responses. While I solicit responses from students to check their comprehension, I'm also ensuring that all students are necessarily correcting or modifying their own responses if they're incorrect. 


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. As I stated in the previous section, much of the questions presented here are mostly of the "which factor affects insolation in what way" type of question. As is the case for all my other practice-based components, 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. For whatever reason, I've found that many students struggle with this content - they mix up the shadow lengths, the inverse relationships, all that stuff. The best way I've found to combat this is to give them the chance to identify and correct their mistakes in questions of this type, which is why this section is a little extended as per my usual lessons. I'm posting a brief video on how I teach this, just to clear up the concept a little bit:

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. This is also the time that I remind them of their Homework for the evening. 

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 where the vertical ray falls on the respective Equinoxes/Solstices, 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.