Weather & Climate Unit Storyline - 5E Model - NGSS MS-ESS2-5 MS-ESS2-6

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    Storyline Summary - Order of Activities, Phenomena, & Formative Assessments


    Develop student understanding of weather and climate concepts through this NGSS-aligned three-dimensional storyline. Introduce the investigative phenomenon -- understanding Death Valley and why it’s so hot. (Students can also take it further to understand why the region is prime real estate for solar energy development if you choose to focus on that aspect of the provided investigative phenomenon!)

    This Bundle Includes:

    0 Describing Climate With Data: Climographs & Death Valley

    Introduce and engage students in the basic concepts of climate, the climate of the Mojave Desert specifically, and the impact of climate on solar energy generation in this activity that introduces an investigative phenomenon and launches student learning. In this activity, students

    • analyze climate data to create (or, to scaffold the activity, simply interpret) climographs that allow them to easily compare the climate of five locations -- one proposed solar energy farm and four existing solar energy developments (selected from among the top 10 in the world).
    • use their climographs and additional provided resources to draw conclusions about the suitability of sites for solar energy development
    • begin to explore the concept that latitude impacts the amount of energy a given location receives and therefore, its climate.

    This activity can be used instead of 1 Climatograms - Understanding Climate Data - Precipitation & Temperature MS-ESS2-6 described below.

    1 Climatograms - Understanding Climate Data - Precipitation & Temperature MS-ESS2-6

    Introduce climate categories through an interactive, minds-on task in which students first learn to read a climatogram before creating their own from data provided. (Alternatively, students can investigate their local climate by obtaining data and using the blank card provided!) After compiling and then analyzing their data, students will categorize various U.S. cities by climate. 

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

    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)

    3 Atmospheric Circulation To Understand Climate MS-ESS2-6

    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

    4 Climate Factors -Geography & Mountains, Rain Shadow Effect, Elevation, & Water

    Discover the influence of geography - mountains, elevation, and bodies of water - on climate by analyzing precipitation and temperature patterns presented on climatograms of key U.S. cities. Then use web resources (or supplementary texts) in combination with the evidence collected during the activity to support claims regarding the influence of geography on climate.

    5 Ocean Currents & Climate - Temperature, Salinity & Ocean Circulation MS-ESS2-6

    Explore the relationships between water temperature and convection currents, and in a second lab, salinity and convection currents through two hands-on activities. The lab analysis sheets provide an opportunity for students to begin making sense of their observations and includes additional questions to help students connect their observations in the lab to climate and weather.  Extension questions provide an opportunity for students to make further connections to global climate change and the melting of polar ice.

    6 Modeling Earth’s Climate Assessment - Formative & Summative - MSESS2-6

    Assess student understanding - either formatively or summatively - in this NGSS-aligned, engaging performance task in which students

    • create a model to explain latitudinal climate patterns,
    • then use their model, as well as their understanding of other factors that impact climate (geography, etc) to explain the climate of two locations (selected from eight provided Desert Climate Cards). [Full explanations are provided for teacher background knowledge.]

    7 Weather Maps & Weather Factors - MS-ESS2-5

    Introduce students to simple weather data and the factors that contribute to weather conditions in an engaging yet simple activity set. In this learning sequence, students 

    • first collect weather data and use web resources to understand the factors that contribute to weather conditions
    • then, students analyze data from weather maps to identify patterns and understand how atmospheric conditions contribute to weather. 
    • finally, students use their maps, as well as a real weather forecast map, to explain current weather conditions and predict the weather

    8 Weather Fronts & Air Masses - Severe Weather Phenomenon-Based MS-ESS2-5

    Draw conclusions about the causes of large-scale severe weather events by analyzing and interpreting data in the form of real-world weather maps. In this activity, students:

    • analyze weather maps
    • discover how the movement of air masses can result in weather fronts that affect large geographic areas and cause severe thunderstorms
    • finally, apply their understanding to explain the outbreak of severe weather in the Midwest in May of 2019

    9 Thunderstorm & Development Of Severe Weather MS-ESS2-5

    Guide student discovery of the factors that impact the development of severe weather. Then, formatively evaluate student understanding of the factors that impact the development of isolated thunderstorms in a 3D learning task. Students will

    • use a simulation to investigate the factors that contribute to the development of severe weather
    • and synthesize prior understanding as well as new learning to develop a model that illustrates the formation of a thunderstorm

    10 Severe Weather - Modeling Tornado Formation From Evidence MS-ESS2-5

    Investigate how tornadoes develop in this activity while applying understandings about the water cycle, weather, and climate factors to tornadogenesis. Emphasis in this 3D learning activity is on developing and using models (SEP) and the movement of energy and matter (CCC). Students will:

    • analyze and interpret data to explain the development of severe weather
    • explore the “ingredients” of severe storms to model how tornadoes form
    • obtain information from multiple sources to revise their models

    11 Characteristics Of Air Masses - Explaining Weather Fronts & Events MS-ESS2-5

    Discover the characteristics of air masses that affect North American weather by analyzing their source regions. Then, apply understanding to explain scenarios about the air mass(es) involved in four specific weather events (phenomena).

    12 Weather Assessment Project - Phenomenon-Based Desert Tornado MS-ESS2-5

    Apply understanding of weather, air masses, thunderstorms and severe weather to evaluate clues to explain a phenomenon. This activity assesses student learning through a 3D NGSS-aligned learning task in which students:

    • apply understanding to evaluate “clues” (data, descriptions, narratives, etc) about a phenomenon (a severe storm in Arizona in 2019) 
    • develop an explanation from the resources provided about the phenomenon
    • communicate their explanation through a “Weather Report” presentation/video project

    How can this lesson be used?

    • teach weather and climate through the lens of the American southwest

    How much class time will this take?

    • This unit is designed to last 3-6 weeks, depending upon how quickly your students move through activities and whether or not extension lessons are included. 

    Is this NGSS-aligned?

    This resource is part of a storyline (Organisms And Their Environments) designed to work toward the tagged Next Generation Science Standards. Because Performance Expectations are designed to assess learning by the end of the grade band, unit material may not fully assess every Performance Expectation tagged in the post. This bundle does not include the entire Organisms And Their Environments storyline.

    • MS-ESS2-5 Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses result in changes in weather conditions. (fully assessed)
    • 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. (fully assessed)
    • 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-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-LS2-4 Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.

    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)

    ⭐️ What Other Teachers Are Saying ⭐️

    ⭐️ "I'm so glad that I found this resource! I have been wanting to transition to phenomena-based storylines, but the idea of starting from scratch was daunting. This was such a great way to make the switch! My students and I both enjoyed this unit immensely! Thank you so much!”

    ⭐️ "Very detailed and thorough. Great phenomena and helps build background knowledge as they learn new concepts.”

    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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    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.
    Collect data to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses result in changes in weather conditions. Emphasis is on how air masses flow from regions of high pressure to low pressure, causing weather (defined by temperature, pressure, humidity, precipitation, and wind) at a fixed location to change over time, and how sudden changes in weather can result when different air masses collide. Emphasis is on how weather can be predicted within probabilistic ranges. Examples of data can be provided to students (such as weather maps, diagrams, and visualizations) or obtained through laboratory experiments (such as with condensation). Assessment does not include recalling the names of cloud types or weather symbols used on weather maps or the reported diagrams from weather stations.


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