2.1 When Air Masses Collide: An NGSS Middle School Weather Unit

Monday, 7 January 2019: 2:00 PM
North 229AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Jeffrey Thomas, Central Connecticut State Univ., New Britain, CT

Recently, Connecticut adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which requires all teachers to shift the way they teach science, emphasizing three-dimensional learning as well as literacy integration. To support teachers, science and education faculty from a federally funded professional development project created seven earth science units for middle school teachers to adapt and implement with their students. One these units focused on weather and aligns with the NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea MS ESS2.D, Weather and Climate, which focuses on how air masses are complex weather phenomena and how understanding the dynamics of them can help us predict the weather.

This NGSS weather unit, “When Air Masses Collide,” starts off with an anchoring phenomenon wherein students observe and analyze a time-lapsed video of an abrupt change in the weather, which depicts intense passing cold front, which is the same one that interacted with Hurricane Sandy. Students then work in small groups to develop an initial model to explain this puzzling phenomenon. Next, students complete a series of inquiry-based activities to further explore this phenomenon such as identify air masses, fronts, and pressure systems. All activities focus on students collecting and analyzing data from a variety of sources such as the National Weather Service and Weather Underground in order to better understand this weather phenomenon. Students eventually figure out that this weather phenomenon is a passage of a cold front as a warm and humid air mass is replaced by a cold and dry arctic one. By the end of the unit, students revise their model and explanation. As an extension activity to assess students’ application of this knowledge, students write a technical weather discussion, similar to technical discussions written by meteorologists from the National Weather Service, to predict changing weather based on a current weather event.

Examples of all of the unit activities from this unit will be described and shared, including how the unit was collaboratively developed by university science and education faculty. Examples of student work from middle school students will be shared. Overall, middle school teachers found that students struggled with the technical weather content as well as interpreting the weather data. However, middle school students did persevere to meet the unit learning goals to better understand how weather changes and how it can be predicted by understanding pressure systems, fronts, and air masses.

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