Predicting Regional Air Pressure Condition

This page is authored by Susan Meabh Kelly, University of Connecticut and Connecticut State Department of Education, based on an item in the June 2021 NYS Earth Science Regents Exam and experience as a NYS Regents Earth Science teacher.

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Students are asked to review a map of Southeast Asia and informational text about monsoons in Southeast Asia (The University of the State of New York, 2021), and then respond to the following prompts:

"Based on the map, associated text, and your knowledge of Earth Science, click on a location in Southeast Asia that is most likely to have a regional low pressure condition during July."

"Based on the map, associated text, and your knowledge of Earth Science, drag the small yellow circle to a location in Southeast Asia that is most likely to have a regional low pressure condition during July."

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

Content/concept goals for this activity

The goal of this activity is to surface and evaluate students' understanding of factors that contribute to air pressure patterns. The open-ended nature of GeoClicks/GeoDrag activities allow students' responses to not be limited to pre-determined choices (LaDue & Shipley, 2020).

Higher order thinking goals for this activity

The activity demands a synthesis and application of knowledge of meteorology, Earth's coordinate system, and periodic changes in intensity and duration of incoming solar radiation are evoked as students prepare a thoughtful response.

Other skills/goals for this activity

In the course of preparing an accurate and compelling response to the prompt, mental processes associated with dynamic spatial-temporal thinking in which the movement of the lower atmosphere relative to features of Earth's surface (e.g. large water bodies, mountain ranges) and the shifting orientation of direct incoming solar radiation are elicited (Newcombe & Shipley, 2015).

The item was selected because of its anticipated ability to ignite and center student discourse, as there is more than one pathway to construct a geoscience-informed response. Through collaborative exchange, it is anticipated students will establish a comprehensive and compelling predictive model that reflects and connects many components of the course curriculum.

Context for Use


The original item had been designed to be used in a multi-hour summative examination that encompasses content and skills that reflect the entire course (NYS Regents Earth Science) (The University of the State of New York, 2021). However, it could also be used in an undergraduate introductory-level meteorology course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

An acceptable response can be determined by applying one or more components of the NYS Regents Earth Science course:

(1) The Earth's coordinate system centers the Equator, a horizontal line that equally divides the planet into northern and southern hemispheres, as a key reference point. Horizontal lines of latitude extend north and south of this line. A compass helps identify direction of movement or map orientation, with 90 degrees North and 90 degrees South also being significant reference points. Facing north, east is to the right, west is to the left.

(2) Wind is the result of air moving from areas of high to low pressure.

(3) Mountain ranges and altitude affect movement, concentration of water vapor, and precipitation (Crouch, 2015).

(4) Low air pressure is associated with water vapor rich air (humid). High pressure air is associated with water vapor poor air (dry).

(5) Winds from large bodies of water transport water vapor rich (humid) air. This affects climate experienced on land.

(6) Incoming solar radiation is most intensely received in the tropical zone -- between 23.5 degrees North (Tropic of Cancer) and 23.5 degrees South (Tropic of Capricorn). Within this zone incoming solar radiation strikes at a 90 degree angle. Annually occurring between June 20-22 (solstice), locations at 23.5 degrees North receive incoming solar radiation at an angle of 90 degrees to the surface. Thereafter a 90 degree angle of incidence shifts gradually south.

(7) Energy from incoming solar radiation supports the evaporation of water.

(8) Materials vary in their ability to absorb and retain energy received from incoming solar radiation. Water has a relatively high capacity to absorb and retain energy received from incoming solar radiation compared to land or air. Relative differences in this capacity can be compared via specific heat values (The University of the State of New York, 2011). As a result, it takes longer for water to both increase or decrease in temperature compared to land. The overlying air will have a different temperature, and correspondingly, a different density despite receiving the same intensity and duration of incoming solar radiation. Warmer air is less dense than cooler air due to energy differences, as measured by temperature. The differences in density result in differences in air pressure. Differences in air pressure in adjacent locations support air movement and can distort the International-Tropical Convergence Zone (Lindsey & Kennedy, 2011).

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is used as a formative assessment in high school Earth Science, however it is also appropriate for introductory-level undergraduate meteorology courses. The activity can be adapted for use in settings with different types of available technology.

Black and Wiliam (2009) suggest formative assessment can be conceptualized as five instructional strategies:

1. clarifying and sharing learning intentions and criteria for success;

2. engineering effective classroom discussions and other learning tasks that elicit evidence of student understanding;

3. providing feedback that moves learners forward;

4. activating students as instructional resources for one another; and

5. activating students as the owners of their own learning. (Black & Wiliam, 2009)

Technology-enable formative assessment via student response systems (also known as clickers) and click-on-diagram questions are valuable tools that can facilitate efficient evaluation and advancement of students' understanding of content. Visual displays of students' anonymous responses (e.g. bar graphs or heat maps) have been conceptualized as vehicles to provide immediate feedback and provoke potential need to reteach content. In addition, the unique affordances of click-on-diagrams (CODs) may help evaluate and advance students' visual-spatial problem solving (LaDue & Shipley, 2020).

Rather than be used as a tool for evaluating students' understanding of content presented during class lectures, this activity is used as a vehicle to surface and make visible students' knowledge at the beginning of a high school meteorology module. Aligned with model-based pedagogy (Hestenes, 1987; Jackson et al., 2008; Haag & Megowen, 2015 ), students iteratively co-develop and refine a model that helps predict where to anticipate low air pressure in Southeast Asia during July. A thoughtful, responsive sequence of thought-provoking activities, informed by continuous formative assessment, helps advance students' understanding. In this way -- much like in a science research lab -- the perplexing phenomenon provides a pivot point around which class discourse and sense-making takes place. Communication and learning is facilitated via routine construction and sharing of illustrated models, thus providing ample opportunities for students to develop and apply spacial-temporal thinking.

Description and Teaching Materials

Associated text to be provided to students (from the University of the State of New York Regents High School Examination):

The Southeast Asia monsoons are seasonal shifts in the direction of regional planetary winds. These shifts are related to the movement of air pressure belts as the Sun's vertical ray changes latitude. In the late spring, winds begin to blow from the southwest, bringing moisture from the Gulf of Thailand across Southeast Asia. Rainfall reaches a peak in July and August. This moisture is partially blocked by the Annamite Mountains, located along the border between Vietnam and Laos. Therefore, the rainfall in central Vietnam is somewhat less during these months. In September, the winds reverse direction and begin to flow from the northeast across the Gulf of Tonkin and South China Sea. This wind shift begins the season of heavy rainfall in central Vietnam that continues for months.

Directions to give students using Canvas ("hot spot" question), Top Hat, or iClicker:


"Based on the map, associated text, and your knowledge of Earth Science, click on a location in Southeast Asia that is most likely to have a regional low pressure condition during July."


"Based on the map, associated text, and your knowledge of Earth Science, drag the small yellow circle to a location in Southeast Asia that is most likely to have a regional low pressure condition during July."


Teaching Notes and Tips

This is a modification of an item in the June 2021 administration of the New York State Regents Earth Science exam. For reference and consideration, the average time allotted for each item on the New York State Regents Earth Science exam is approximately two minutes.

The image, text, and prompt may be uploaded into a variety of software and apps, including Canvas ("hot spot" question) (Canvas, 2021), Top Hat (Top Hat, 2021), and iClicker (iClicker, 2021), to facilitate swift assessment of a large number of students (LaDue & Shipley, 2020).

However, Jamboard (Google Workspace, 2021) offers a free alternative in which students may be asked to make a copy of a Jamboard in which a small colored circle is added to the prompt, and drag the small colored circle to their chosen location. (See example of a "GeoDrag" prompt and response above.) While Jamboard will not aggregate all students' responses, a glance at students' uploaded modified maps in the school's digital learning management system will support formative assessment in relatively small classes and circumvent common K-12 IT policy and security challenges. In addition, the "GeoDrag" structure mirrors a type of item response interaction found in state-level Next Generation Science Standards assessments (Connecticut State Department of Education, 2019), providing opportunity for students to gain familiarity with the drag and drop item response type.


In order to define locations that are most likely to occur in Southeast Asia, based on the information highlight in the map image and informative text, a boundary of acceptable circle centers was created for reference. (See "GeoDrag" response boundary at right.) An acceptable response can be achieved by applying one or more components of the NYS Regents Earth Science course (see learning goals).

Complementing the GeoClick/GeoDrag task, students are asked to explain their reasoning in a short paragraph. This serves as an additional resource for formative assessment, and ensures all students prepare a thoughtful response to contribute to the subsequent discussion.

As students explain their reasoning, they are encouraged to surface and leverage knowledge from past experiences, including those experienced outside of school. As one example, many students in my school were born, or have parents who were born, in Central America and Brazil. Students report visiting family at these locations during vacation breaks. Since monsoons also occur at these locations, I anticipate that these students will be positioned to advance collaborative sense-making. Instructors can be similarly mindful of the funds of knowledge students bring to the class (González, et al, 2005), and even intentionally orchestrate opportunities to recognize and integrate students' place-based knowledge (Kelly, 2019).

References and Resources


Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 1(1).

Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System (2021). Global circulation. Retrieved via:

Connecticut State Department of Education (2019). NGSS Assessments: Item Types. In Kelly, S. M. (2019). NGSS Assessment Tools: Development guidelines: Item types. Retrieved via:

Crouch, J. (2015). The highs and lows of climate. Retrieved via:

GLOBE Scientists' Blog (2011). What exactly is the monsoon? Retrieved via:

González, N., Moll, L., Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Haag, S. & Megowen, C. (2015). Next Generation Science Standards: A national mixed-methods study on teacher readiness. School Science and Mathematics, 115(8): 416-426.

Hestenes, D. (1987). Toward a modeling theory of physics instruction. American Journal of Physics, 55(5): 440-454.

Jackson, J., Dukerich, L., & Hestenes, D. (2008). Modeling instruction: An effective model for science education. Science Educator, 17(1), 10–17.

Kelly, S. (2019, July 14-19). Beyond the 3 dimensions: Integrating identity and interest in NGSS geoscience investigations [Conference presentation]. Earth Educators' Rendezvous, Nashville, TN.

LaDue, N. & Shipley, T. (2020). Click-on-Diagram questions: Using clickers to engage students in visual-spatial reasoning. In Active learning in college science: The case for evidence-based practice (pp. 159-171). Springer.

Lindsey, R. & Kennedy, C. (2011). Annual migration of tropical rain belt. Retrieved via:

Newcombe, N. S., & Shipley, T. F. (2015). Thinking about spatial thinking: New typology, new assessments. In Studying visual and spatial reasoning for design creativity (pp. 179–192). Dordrecht: Springer.

The University of the State of New York (2011). Reference tables for physical setting/Earth science. Retrieved from: .

The University of the State of New York (2021). Regents High School Examination: Physical Setting/Earth Science, v202. Retrieved via:

University Corporation for Atmospheric Research Center for Science Education (2021). Monsoons. Retrieved via:


Canvas (2021). Canvas. Retrieved from:

Google Workspace (2021). Jamboard. Retrieved via:

iClicker (2021). iClicker. Retrieved from:

Top Hat (2021). Top Hat. Retrieved via: