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Optional Activity: Circulation in the atmosphere - a map and cross section based jigsaw

Philip Resor (Wesleyan University)
Allison Dunn (Worcester State University)
Bob MacKay (Clark College)

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.

Overview

Using a jigsaw design, groups interpret maps of wind fields from one altitude of the atmosphere and create concept sketches in map form. Students regroup by latitude zones, integrate wind patterns and illustrate atmospheric circulation for their assigned latitude. A whole class discussion explores relationships to global heat budget and how changes in the atmospheric circulation system might impact human society.

Science and Engineering Practices

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to construct, revise and/or use an explanation for real- world phenomena, examples, or events. MS-P6.4:

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships. MS-P4.2:

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena. MS-P4.4:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Patterns: Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data. MS-C1.4:

Patterns: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships. MS-C1.3:

Patterns: Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena HS-C1.1:

Energy and Matter: Energy drives the cycling of matter within and between systems. HS-C5.4:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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.D1:

Performance Expectations

Earth's Systems: Develop a model based on evidence of Earth’s interior to describe the cycling of matter by thermal convection. HS-ESS2-3:

This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.



This page first made public: Nov 18, 2016

Summary

In this optional activity, students analyze maps of wind patterns from three levels in the atmosphere in order to infer global atmospheric circulation patterns and their role in balancing the radiation budget they established in Units 4 and 5. The main activity is a jigsaw in which students explore a single map on their own prior to class, confer with their classmates in specialty groups, and then synthesize atmospheric circulation for an assigned latitudinal zone. In these synthesis groups, students create maps and cross-section concept sketches to use in a full class discussion at the end of class. A follow-up assignment asks students to infer the relationship between global atmospheric circulation patterns and precipitation and then predict possible consequences of changes in these patterns due to global warming.

Learning Goals

By the end of the unit, students will be able to:

  • Explain how atmospheric circulation acts to balance the global heat budget.
  • Analyze maps of global wind fields to infer patterns of atmospheric circulation.
  • Attribute global circulation patterns to variations in the global heat budget observed in Units 4 and 5 (e.g. latitudinal gradients, land/sea differences).
  • Predict how changes in the atmospheric circulation system might impact human society.

Context for Use

This optional activity introduces students to patterns of atmospheric circulation through a student-centered data-rich activity. This activity is built around a map and cross-section based jigsaw where students explore how radiation imbalances discovered in Units 4 and 5 are redistributed (balanced) through atmospheric circulation.

Students are asked to make their initial map interpretations prior to class in order to facilitate completion of the remainder of the activity in a 50-minute period.

The activity could be completed by classes of almost all sizes. For classes with fewer than 9 students you may wish to focus on a single hemisphere and/or group latitudinal bands when forming synthesis groups. For larger classes there will be multiple specialty groups interpreting the same data maps and multiple groups interpreting the same latitudinal bands.

This unit could be used in combination with Units 4 and 5, replacing Part 2 of Unit 5 and adding one additional 50-minute period, or as a stand-alone activity as long as students are familiar with the Earth's energy balance.

Description and Teaching Materials

Introduction

In this activity students analyze data from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NCEP-NCAR) Reanalysis project. These data are presented in a series of maps:

A student handout helps guide the students through the activity:

The activity is introduced with a class discussion of Earth's radiation balance, regional climate, and their impact on human activities.

In Part 1, students work in small specialty groups to interpret a map of the wind field from one altitude (pressure level) of the atmosphere. Students are asked to interpret the data in the context of the material they have learned in the first five units of Earth's Thermostat. They are asked to create a concept sketch in map form using the Atmosphere jigsaw specialty group basemap (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.1MB Nov18 16) (also available as a PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 1.1MB Nov18 16)).

In Part 2, students regroup into synthesis groups where they first explain their specialty map to the group and then work together to create concept sketches that integrate a map and cross section (Atmosphere jigsaw synthesis group base (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.1MB Nov18 16), also available as a PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 1.2MB Nov18 16)) to illustrate atmospheric circulation and its relationship to the global radiation budget for their assigned latitudinal zone.

The associated Slides for optional activity (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 21.1MB Nov8 16) can be used to introduce the activity, guide the students through each task, and as an outline for a final in-class discussion. Specific slides for each of these tasks are listed in the detailed description below.

In class you will need

Prior to class

Introduction (15 minutes total)

15 minutes: Slides 1-12 Slides for optional activity (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 21.1MB Nov8 16) provide an introduction to the activity including a think-pair-share activity comparing radiation balance to regional climate, learning objectives for the activity, review slides of the global energy balance, atmospheric layers, and heat transfer, and an introduction to atmospheric data collection and analysis. This introduction should occur during the class period prior to completing the jigsaw activity (for instructors teaching this activity in conjunction with Units 4 and 5 of Earth's Thermostat module this introduction can replace Part 2 of Unit 5).

Ask students to review and analyze their altitude group map prior to class in order to facilitate completion of the activity in a 50-minute period. Questions 1-4 in the student handout (specialty task 1, page 2 of the Student handout atmosphere jigsaw (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 137kB Nov18 16) or Student handout atmosphere jigsaw - pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 119kB Nov18 16)) help guide the students as they independently interpret their specialty group map. Students can begin this work in class if time permits.

In order to provide students with adequate time for preparation the following items should be completed at least one class meeting prior to the in-class activity.

  • Each student will need to be assigned to an altitude (surface horizontal wind, 5.5 km vertical wind, 12 km horizontal wind) and latitude group (0-30°N, 0-30°S,30-60°S). Perhaps the easiest way to do this is by printing slips of paper with the assignments to handout in class along with the assignment materials. Example student assignments (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 38kB Nov18 16) provides and example for a class of 18 students. Altitude groups of 2-4 students are optimal so that all group members can see the map and be involved in the discussion. For larger classes create multiple groups of each altitude. Divide the students as equally as possible between the altitudes. Latitude groups should ideally consist of three members, one from each altitude assigned to a specific latitude zone and hemisphere. If your class numbers do not permit this you will have to make some groups with duplicate specialists. For small classes you will probably want to assign all students to a single hemisphere or have them look at both hemispheres. You may need to do a little shuffling of assignments before you start if some students are absent. Data from latitude 30-60°N are used as an illustration in class so that this band is omitted from the student group assignments. The polar regions are also omitted as polar circulation is difficult to discern from the data, but can be discussed after completion of the activity.
  • Each student will also need a copy of Student handout atmosphere jigsaw (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 137kB Nov18 16) (or PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 119kB Nov18 16)), Atmosphere jigsaw specialty group basemap (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.1MB Nov18 16) (or PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 1.1MB Nov18 16)) and their assigned map from NCEP_NCAR January atmosphere maps (Acrobat (PDF) 4.1MB Jul15 15). Maps can be provided either in printed or through access to the digital files.

Lay out maps with group names before class. Provide one copy of the map for each student so that they can take it with them when they re-form into Latitudinal synthesis groups. As students enter the classroom have them sit at the appropriate location for their altitude group. For larger classes you will probably want to have some help with this!

Part 1: Altitude Specialty Groups (15 minutes total)

15 minutes: Students meet with their altitude groups and compare their answers to the guiding questions (specialty task 1, page 2 of the Student handout atmosphere jigsaw (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 137kB Nov18 16) or PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 119kB Nov18 16)). The questions on the handout are designed to guide them as they look for patterns and infer processes in their data. Student specialty groups should then work together to create a concept sketch that on the Atmosphere jigsaw specialty group basemap (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.1MB Nov18 16) that illustrates the major patterns they see in their data and how these patterns might relate to the global heat budget and heat transport (specialty task 2, page 3 of the Student handout atmosphere jigsaw (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 137kB Nov18 16) or PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 119kB Nov18 16)). The instructor (and TAs for larger classes) should walk the room at this time to check on group progress, answer questions, and encourage students to look closely and think deeply about their data. By the end of this time all groups should be prepared to discuss their data with their classmates in latitudinal synthesis groups. See Slides for optional activity (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 21.1MB Nov8 16) Slide 12.

Part 2: Atmospheric Circulation Synthesis (35 minutes total)

5 minutes: Students rearrange into their latitudinal synthesis groups and briefly present their altitude group map and concept sketch to the other members of their group (synthesis task 1, page 4 of the Student handout atmosphere jigsaw (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 137kB Nov18 16) or PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 119kB Nov18 16)). Slides for optional activity (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 21.1MB Nov8 16) Slide 13.

5 minutes: Slides 14-16 introduce the details of synthesizing the data in map and cross section view. Slides 15 and 16 walk through the interpretation and cross-section plotting for one latitude band (30-60°N). The slide notes include a number of leading questions that the instructor may use to guide the students through the process.

15 minutes: Students work with their groups to synthesize their specialty group observations into a concept sketch on Atmosphere jigsaw synthesis group base (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.1MB Nov18 16) or PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 1.2MB Nov18 16) that illustrates atmospheric circulation and associated heat transport in their assigned latitudinal zone (synthesis task 2, page 4 of the Student handout atmosphere jigsaw (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 137kB Nov18 16) or PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 119kB Nov18 16)).

Slides for optional activity (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 21.1MB Nov8 16) Slide 17. The instructor (and TAs for larger classes) should walk the room at this time to check on group progress, answer questions, and encourage students to look closely and think deeply about their data. By the end of this time all groups should be prepared to discuss their data and interpretation with the whole class.

10 minutes: Summary discussion. The instructor will guide a whole-class discussion of Earth's atmospheric circulation calling on student specialty groups to illustrate the various points.

Slides for optional activity (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 21.1MB Nov8 16)

  • Slides 18-29 summarize the data and idealized circulation patterns for each of the suggested latitudinal bands (2 slides). Depending on class size you may not use all of the slide pairs. The first slide for each latitudinal band, labeled discussion, presents the data. You can call on student groups while showing this slide and have them explain their observations and interpretations. If you have a document camera or have students work on overheads they can present their concept sketches directly. If not, you may want to have students contribute toward a synthesis sketch on the chalk board that includes a sketch map and cross section.
  • Slides 30-31 provide a synthesis, including zonal averages for altitudinal wind components.
  • Slide 32 illustrates the Coriolis effect.

For thought

Questions 5-8 on the student handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 137kB Nov18 16) (also available as a PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 119kB Nov18 16)) ask students to analyze global precipitation in the context of the atmospheric circulation patterns they have identified and to predict the effects of a widening tropical circulation (Hadley) cell on regional climates and human societies. These questions could be discussed in class if time permits or assigned as homework.

Slides for optional activity (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 21.1MB Nov8 16) Slides 33-35 present these questions as well and could be used to lead an in-class discussion or to introduce the homework assignment. Students will need access to January Precipitation Map (Acrobat (PDF) 2.2MB Jul15 15) to answer these questions at home.

Teaching Notes and Tips

In order to complete the jigsaw activity in a single 50-minute class period students should be introduced to the activity, given their group assignments, a copy of the student handouts, and access to the appropriate specialty group map (either in print or digital form) prior to class. For instructors teaching this optional activity as part of Earth's Thermostat module this introduction can occur in place of the part 2 discussion at the end of Unit 5.

Specialty group seating should be clearly marked so that groups sit together when entering the classroom. Specialty group meetings will serve as a time for students to compare and improve their interpretations prior to joining their synthesis groups.

By roaming the room while student groups are working, instructors can monitor progress, answer questions and clear up any student misconceptions.

The activity slide set is set up to help guide the activity and final discussion. The relevant slide numbers for each portion of the unit are noted in the appropriate piece of the Description and Teaching Materials above. Notes associated with each slide also provide points for discussion. If possible, student maps, graphs, and sketches should be used in place of Slides 21, 23, and 25 to encourage student participation in the final discussion.

Assessment

Learning outcomes for the activity:
  • Explain how atmospheric circulation acts to balance the global heat budget.
    • Assessed by student worksheet, concept sketch, and atmospheric cross section.
  • Analyze maps of global wind fields to infer patterns of atmospheric circulation.
    • Assessed by student worksheet, concept sketch, and atmospheric cross section.
  • Attribute global circulation patterns to variations in the global heat budget observed in unit 4 (e.g. latitudinal gradients, land/sea differences).
    • Assessed by student worksheet, concept sketch, and atmospheric cross section.
  • Predict how changes in the atmospheric circulation system might impact human society.
    • Assessed by questions 5-8 of student handout assigned as a take-home exercise or in-class discussion.

Although students work in groups they are expected to complete their own worksheet, map-based concept sketch, and annotated graph. Rubrics are provided for each of these components in the file Worksheet answer key and rubrics (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 143kB Nov18 16) or PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 129kB Nov18 16). The rubric for grading the student worksheet is included for instructors who choose to collect and grade the handout questions. In this case it should be added to the student worksheet as well.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »