CSTA Classroom Science

From Hot Asphalt to Solar Radiation

By Philip Hudec

Imagine a group of sixth graders, challenging one another to see who can sit on the asphalt the longest, on a hot August day at a middle school in the Palm Springs Unified School District, where temperatures can reach 115° F. (This may sound crazy to you but believe me, students in our district really do this!) Our students know that it is hotter in the desert than in most other places.They know that if they stick to the white lines of the black top, they are less likely to burn their feet. They know that when splashing water on the pool deck, it will be cool enough, even if only for a few minutes, to sit on.

What they don’t know is why these facts are true.

Now imagine the opportunity that their science teachers have to make connections between this common knowledge and the physics of heat, weather, and climate. Previous iterations of the California Science Standards, more often than not, ignored these types of opportunities. The 1998 California Science Standards, which placed an emphasis on students’ “knowing” information (often understood to mean being able to regurgitate information), did not always emphasize real world examples as a way of extending knowledge. For example, a 1998 standard on heat at 6th grade read, “Heat moves in a predictable flow from warmer objects to cooler objects until all the objects are at the same temperature.” Separate standards on energy in the Earth system further emphasized the need for students to “know” facts about these important science concepts without making explicit connections in relation to the cause and effect between them.

Today, as then, we have students in our classrooms that can make concrete connections to experiences in their everyday lives. The difference between then and now, however, is that now we are expected to tap into those real world experiences. As people of science, we understand the connection between heat transfer and how it drives weather and climate. Previously, however, their connections were often lost due to the mere fact that they were concepts in separate chapters of an adopted textbook.

http://www.classroomscience.org/eccs09012010/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Hudec_Image1_Modeling-168x300.pngModeling the Sun and Earth relationship.[/caption] 

Within the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS), our students are asked to develop and use models to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic currents that determine regional climates. They are asked to collect data and to provide evidence for how the motions and complex interactions of air masses results in changes in weather conditions. These performance expectations (MS-ESS2-5and MS-ESS2-6) are loaded with academic content in the form of “doing” science and engineering practices, applying understanding of disciplinary core ideas, and thinking in terms of crosscutting concepts. It is easy to see that our students will be challenged to make the connections among the cause and effect relationship between the physics of heat and weather and climate. As educators, we can draw on their prior knowledge (like that obtained in their fun filled challenges on the school asphalt or by wearing black on a hot summer day) and begin to build conceptual frameworks that help them to demonstrate their understanding of the world around them.

Tackling the concept of heat capacity using heat lamps and various substrate materials.[/caption] 

This, of course, is one of the main goals behind the CA-NGSS. We want our students to have an understanding of how the universe works. This was also one of the main goals a team of scientists and educators and I had when we came together last summer as part of the California K-8 Next Generation Science Standards Early Implementation Initiative to provide professional development training. Dr. Cheryl Peach, from the Birch Aquarium at UCSD’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and Dr. Susan Gomez-Zwiep, a CSULB professor of science education, and I worked with a passionate group of 6th grade science educators from around southern California on the integration of earth, physical, and life science components of the NGSS. We found that making strong connections to prior knowledge and asking questions in regards to interesting phenomena helped to make learning the science a more meaningful experience that led to a deeper understanding.

Modeling the Coriolis effect to better understand patterns within global atmospheric and oceanic currents.[/caption] 

During the summer institute, teacher’s involved spent time collecting data from their own investigations, and cross checking their findings, while looking for patterns in real world data gathered from various sources such as offshore moorings, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) websites, and the graduate students at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. We started our week with a phenomenon: an animated map of global weather conditions indicating both global temperature patterns and ocean currents.

Throughout the summer institute, an emphasis was placed on asking interesting questions and the path to finding the answers using a 3-dimensional approach found within the NGSS. A 3-dimensional approach is the integration of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEP) with Crosscutting Concepts (CCC) and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI). While teachers conducted investigations and analyzed data (SEP) about how heat flows in different Earth materials (DCI), questions were used to focus their discussions around patterns (CCC). Is there a pattern to this data? How can I organize and display my data to show this pattern? Later in the week, teachers were asked to extend these patterns to develop models about how heat from the Sun can predict and explain global wind and ocean currents in the Earth’s system. Our questions shifted to “how can we model this system (Earth) and what are the parts or sub-systems contributing to these currents?” Our goal was to contribute to the important work being done to create more scientifically literate students. As science educators, we were reminded of our need to challenge students to think, to ask questions, and to connect their prior knowledge to science concepts.

Perhaps, in a few years, we will overhear our students contemplating the relationship between elevation, air pressure, and temperature as they sit on the hot blacktop determined to win the asphalt challenge.

Crosscutting concept questions retrieved from http://crosscutsymbols.weebly.com/

>Philip Hudec is a Science Teacher on Special Assignment with the Palm Springs Unified School District, and can be contacted at phudec@psusd.us



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