Exploring Latitude To Understand Climate Patterns - Climate Factors MS-ESS2-6

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Dig into the impact of latitude on climate in this engaging NGSS-aligned exploration that builds student understanding of a key factor that impacts Earth’s climate patterns. In this activity sequence, students 

  • map North American deserts and analyze average temperatures to draw conclusions about the impact of latitude on temperature
  • then design and carry out an investigation using a simulation to answer the question, Why does latitude affect temperature? 
  • participate in a low-prep demo/ultra simple lab to reinforce student understanding of the impact of the angle of incidence (the angle at which solar energy hits the Earth) on the temperature of the region. 
  • read a short text to obtain additional evidence and reinforce student understanding of the explored concepts
  • finally, compile the evidence they have collected to explain the differences in temperatures of North American deserts (the initial phenomenon)

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 organize and analyze data to draw conclusions about temperature differences of North American deserts.
  • Students will carry out an investigation using an online simulation to answer the question, Why does latitude affect temperature?
  • Students will explain the differences in temperature of North American deserts using what they have learned about latitude and solar output.

This lesson includes:

  • 8 student pages
  • detailed teacher lesson guide (10 pages)
  • class task sheets (1 page)
  • answer keys

How can this lesson be used?

  • guide discovery of latitude as a primary factor that impacts climate
  • create an “aha moment” for students as they identify the pattern that temperatures decrease as you move away from the equator
  • develop understanding of the mechanism behind that latitudinal pattern -- i.e. differences in the angle at which solar energy hits Earth’s surface

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 https://iexplorescience.com/earth-science-curriculum/

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:

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

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

  • Patterns

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 nvantassel@iexplorescience.com with questions about resources or implementation. I'm happy to help!

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Total Pages
20 pages
Answer Key
Teaching Duration
3 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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