Ocean Currents

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SWBAT identify the source of ocean currents and label cold and warm water ocean currents on a global map

Big Idea

Students identify warm and cold ocean currents on a global map and identify the climactic effects of different ocean currents

Lesson Introduction

This lesson serves as an interesting wake-up call to students, who generally had no idea how important ocean currents are to the overall climate of a coastal area (this is particularly relevant since my students are mostly from coastal neighborhoods in New York City). In this lesson, we explore what ocean currents area, how they're formed, and most importantly, how they affect the climate of an area. We finish the lesson (of course) with some Regents-based practice. As a final note, there are no special materials 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: 6.6 - Ocean Currents (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: 6.6 - Ocean Currents (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

10 minutes

Students come in silently and complete the (attached) Do Now. In this case, the Do Now is a review of material and some "hot standards" from earlier units in addition to some needed review on material from the current unit on Climate. 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,

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 & Text

15 minutes

We start the lesson on the first page of the Introduction & Text resource, where I pose an interesting question to students. As stated in the resource, the image is from England at a relatively northern latitude, yet there are palm trees lining the streets - I ask students to interpret this image based on what they know (some of my more astute students said something to the effect of "it has something to do with ocean currents," knowing that was what the lesson is about). 

Upon revealing the answer, that the coast of Great Britain is heated by a warm ocean current, we go into a further explanation in the text, which introduces both cold and warm ocean currents and how they affect temperature. As stated in the embedded comments, (please open the comments in the attached Word document in the Lesson Introduction section), I ask students to do this reading together and answer the associated checks for understanding after each paragraph. I give students about 5-6 minutes to do this together, and then go over the material using either my popsicle sticks or cold calling for some student responses. 

Climate Graphs & Notes

10 minutes

After reading the text and going over the responses, I introduce two different graphs to students, which are embedded in the Climate Graphs & Notes resource. I don't give them much information to use here beyond introducing the information that the graphs, as labelled, are about New York, NY and San Francisco, CA, respectively. I further say that the line graphs are temperatures over the course of the year, while the light blue bars are precipitation rates. I give students about a minute to look over the graphs and annotate any information they find surprising, and then I have them turn and talk with a partner to discuss their findings.

After the quick verbal discussion, I then have students transition to the next page in the Climate Graphs & Notes resource, where they're asked to answer some basic information based on interpreting the graphs. We then convene back together and review this information, and I point out the key deliverable - the California Current, a cold ocean current, moderates the temperature of San Francisco. The Gulf Stream, a warm ocean current, has a different effect on the climate of New York City and the surrounding coastal areas. Generally speaking, the fact of the lesson is that warmer ocean currents produce warmer weather, while cooler ocean currents have the opposite effect. Both, however, tend to moderate the temperature more than inland locations do, though. 


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:

  • Do you feel that you mastered the objective for the day?
  • Can you reiterate one thing you learned about (in this case, information on the formulation and types of ocean currents, 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.