What is Wind?

I. Prior Knowledge

Inquiry-based learning is most effective if you can determine what your students already know about the subject. Several days prior to doing this activity, take your students on a series of one-minute field trips around the school and its campus to observe and record their observations of wind.

1. Have your students use all of their senses to describe wind. Can they see wind? feel it? smell it? hear it? taste it? How do we know it's there? What evidence can they provide to support their descriptions of wind?

2. Good inquiry is based on exploration of materials, observation, collection of data, and reflection. A journal provides a medium through which the process of inquiry can occur. Students should compile their journal with very specific guidelines from you as the teacher/facilitator. In this case, have students list observations by senses each time they explore the wind:

      I can see__________________________
      I can feel__________________________
      I can smell_________________________
      I can hear__________________________
      I can taste_________________________

After a number of one-minute field trips have been completed, students should begin to look for patterns in these observations. Do these observations raise any additional questions in the students' minds? If so, record them in the journal.

3. After you feel confident that the students have had ample opportunities to describe wind individually in their journals, ask them to share their descriptions and record the group's best thinking so far on chart paper.

II. Exploration

Introduce the following demonstration within the context of your students' observations. Tell them that this demonstration is like the way wind is produced on Earth. As they observe this demonstration, have students look for evidence of wind. Note these observations in journals and describe the factors contributing to this phenomenon.

A. Materials:

B. Procedure:

1. Insert 100 watt bulb into clamp lamp socket. Set up the clamp lamp so that it shines down on one end of the aquarium.

2. Place the bowl of ice at the other end of the aquarium and cover aquarium with plastic wrap.

3. Make a small amount of smoke by lighting the end of a punk. Let it burn for a few moments and then blow it out.

4. Puncture a hole in the plastic wrap with the lit punk near the bowl of ice. Describe what happens to the smoke.

Now, provide the students with a chance to explore on their own. You should become the facilitator of this process by providing appropriate materials for the children to explore. Given this demonstration, what happens:

a. when air is heated under a lightweight object? Make a wind serpent, tie a piece of string to the eye of the serpent and hold it above a lit candle.

b. when you drop small feathers or blow bubbles in different places around a room? Can you find places where the feather or bubbles will rise?

Be sure that students are given the opportunity to record entries in their journals as you proceed through each of the explorations. Note observations, patterns, and further questions to investigate. Encourage students to use combinations of text, pictures, charts, tables, drawings, etc.

III. Explanation

The atmosphere is composed of air which, in turn, is made up of tiny particles of different gases like nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen. The Sun shines on our atmosphere all of the time. But, it heats the surface of the Earth unevenly, so that in some places it is warm while in other places it is cold. As air gets warmer, its particles spread out. This makes the air lighter, or less dense, so it rises. As air cools, it becomes heavier, or more dense, and sinks. As warm air rises, air from cooler areas flows in to take the place of the heated air. This process is called convection and causes air to move. The differential heating of the Earth's surface and the resulting convection is what causes wind on this planet. Wind circles the Earth and plays an important role in determining weather conditions.

IV. Examples from Everyday Life

A. Hot air balloon: Air is heated by a gas flame below the balloon. The hot air inside is lighter or less dense than the cooler air outside the balloon. As the hot air rises, it carries the balloon upward. When the gas flame is turned down, the air cools and the balloon sinks back to the ground.

B. Sea breeze and land breeze: Coastal winds blow landward during the day and seaward at night. On a sunny day, the sand warms quickly. The warm air over the beach rises, and the cooler ocean air moves in to replace it, causing a sea breeze. At night the reverse effect occurs. A land breeze is generated by the relative differences in temperature caused by the more rapid loss of heat from the land than from the sea.

C. What other examples can students think of that demonstrate the concept of differential heating of air masses and the resulting movement of these masses? Have students note additional examples in journals.

V. Assessment

Assessment strategies within an inquiry-based approach are conducted informally and through constant interaction with students and their journals. Several questions to focus your assessment include:

1. Did the student describe wind using each of his/her senses? What evidence did they provide?
2. Did they find any patterns in their observations about wind?
3. Did the student record accurate and appropriate observations concerning factors that create moving air or wind?
4. Was the student able to suggest other explorations or examples from everyday life providing evidence that warm air rises and cold air sinks creating wind?

It is at this point in the inquiry process that you can formatively determine your students' understanding of wind. Reflection on their experiences through journal writing is a very important part of inquiry-based learning because it links what they do with what they learned.

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