Atmospheric Circulation To Understand Climate MS-ESS2-6

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6th - 8th, Homeschool
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20 pages
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Discover the basics of atmospheric circulation in this three-part activity sequence in which students

  • review the relationship between particle motion and thermal energy through an online simulation,
  • carry out an investigation to understand the movement of atmospheric gasses via convection
  • develop a model to understand the role of the Earth's rotation in the movement of air on Earth's surface. 
  • and finally, apply their understanding to the phenomenon of regional climates

This activity is part of the middle school unit Organisms and Their Environments, which ties together concepts in the Life and Earth Sciences (Water Cycle, Climate, and Weather). If you are interested in the complete unit, you can find additional activities at iExploreScience on TeachersPayTeachers (see the bundled resources below) or through iExploreScience’s Spark Science program. 

This activity is part of a unit that addresses the following standards:

  • MS-LS2-1 Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
  • MS-LS2-2 Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.
  • MS-ESS2-4 Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth's systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity. 
  • MS-ESS2-5 Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses result in changes in weather conditions.
  • MS-ESS2-6 Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates. 

Learning Targets:

  • Students will develop a model to illustrate the relationship between thermal energy, particle motion, and density.
  • Students will observe a phenomenon to draw conclusions about the relationship between density and the movement of fluids.
  • Students will apply their understanding of convection to atmospheric circulation.
  • Students will explain how Earth’s rotation affects the movement of air around the globe.
  • Students will use their model to make predictions about the impact of atmospheric circulation on climate patterns.

This lesson includes:

  • 6 student pages
  • detailed teacher lesson guide (13 pages)
  • answer keys

How can this lesson be used?

  • develop student understanding of atmospheric circulation as a factor that can explain patterns in Earth’s regional climates
  • connect Physical Science topics (particle motion and thermal energy) to Earth Science phenomena and concepts

How much class time will this take?

This lesson may take up to two to at-most three 50-minute class periods to fully complete. 

Is this NGSS-aligned?

This activity works toward student mastery of the Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices, and/or Crosscutting Concepts in the tagged Performance Expectations. Learn more about the intention for this unit at

This activity works towards the following Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • ESS2.D: Weather and Climate Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns. (MS-ESS2-6) Because these patterns are so complex, weather can only be predicted probabilistically. (MS-ESS2-5) The ocean exerts a major influence on weather and climate by absorbing energy from the sun, releasing it over time, and globally redistributing it through ocean currents. (MS-ESS2-6)
  • ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land. (MS-ESS2-4) The complex patterns of the changes and the movement of water in the atmosphere, determined by winds, landforms, and ocean temperatures and currents, are major determinants of local weather patterns. (MS-ESS2-5)

This activity engages students in the following Science and Engineering Practices:

  • Developing and Using Models
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

This activity encourages students to think about the following Crosscutting Concepts:

  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  • Energy and Matter

Can I see an example of how you structure your lessons and student materials?

Download my Let's Talk Trash Anchor Phenomenon freebieHERE</a>!

What if I have questions?

You can email me at with questions about resources or implementation. I'm happy to help!

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Total Pages
20 pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
2 days
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to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates. Emphasis is on how patterns vary by latitude, altitude, and geographic land distribution. Emphasis of atmospheric circulation is on the sunlight-driven latitudinal banding, the Coriolis effect, and resulting prevailing winds; emphasis of ocean circulation is on the transfer of heat by the global ocean convection cycle, which is constrained by the Coriolis effect and the outlines of continents. Examples of models can be diagrams, maps and globes, or digital representations. Assessment does not include the dynamics of the Coriolis effect.


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