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Lessons & Units

A database of lessons and units searchable by content and cultural standards, cultural region and grade level. More units will be available soon. You can use Acrobat Reader to look at the PDF version of the Cover Sheet for the Units and Self-Assessment for Cultural Standards in Practice.


by Jonas Ramoth and Sidney Stephens

Activity Series 1: Convection

–If you open the door of a warm house on a cold day, there's the wind.”
-Jonas Ramoth

Background Convection currents stirring the atmosphere produce winds. Convection is a cyclic process in which heat energy is transferred in fluids (liquids or gases). If a fluid is heated (a), it expands, becomes less dense and rises (b). When this warm liquid reaches the surface, it spreads out and begins to cool (c). As the fluid gets farther from the heat source, it cools down, and the cooler fluid sinks (d). Thus a convection current or cell is completed when the cooler, sinking fluid flows inward (e) towards the heat source to replace the upward-moving, hotter fluid (a). This cycle is what drives both local and global winds as well as volcanic eruptions, the swirling patterns in miso soup, ocean currents, home heat circulation patterns and mountain building.*

heat source

Activity 1a



Pencils, tape, tissue paper, scissors, string, hole punch




  1. Read the opening quote from Jonas Ramoth: If you open the door of a warm house on a cold day, there's the wind. Ask them what they think Jonas means by this. Ask them to imagine this situation and to diagram and describe in their journals the movement of air when the door is opened. Students will have had lots of experience with this phenomena and will probably say things like –hot air rises” and –cold rushes in”, but use questions like the following to probe their understand-ing of air movement particularly with regard to the convection cycle.
  • Can you feel air movement or just a temperature change?
  • Does air move into or out of the house or both?
  • If cold air is moving into the house, what is happening to the warm air ?
  • If the air is moving, are hot and cold air moving in the same way at the same place?

    Discuss these ideas as a class, recording predictions and explanations. (EA: prior knowledge of convection)

  1. Provide students with a copy of the Learning Cycle Model Scoring Guide** and let them know that their learning will be assessed using this checklist. Students will use the form as a self-evaluation and you will use it as a checklist as students work through the explorations and as you review their journal entries.
  1. Have students construct wind detectors by using string to attach a 1 x 3 inch strip of tissue paper to a pencil as shown. (You'll want to test design ahead of time to make sure it is weighted sufficiently to swing with wind.) pencil
  2. Ask them to go to an outside door on a cold winter day***, open the door just a few inches (from inside) and hold the detector near the floor. Observe and record which way the tissue/wind moves.
  3. Now hold the detector in the middle of the door and then near the top. Observe and record movement of wind detector.
  4. Ask which way the air is moving at each of these locations. Does the air movement seem to be as strong at each level? What are your ideas about this? How do these observations compare with your original ideas?
  5. How do you think air would move if you opened the door of a hot oven in a warm room? Test and find out.
  6. Discuss how these observations compare with their original ideas. Have them revise journal diagrams if they want.


  • Initiates activities with no forethought or avoids activity completely
  • ignores needs and contributions of peers
  • interacts with phenomena as instructed
  • works politely with peers, but sticks to personal agenda
  • asks clarifying questions
  • uses a variety of methods to interact with the subject
  • works cooperatively with peers and gains insights from their activities
  • no organized attention or skills applied to task at hand
  • measurements, observations, and classifications are recorded, but with little attention to detail
  • makes careful observations, measurements, and classifications
  • records measurements, observations, and inferences
  • shows minimal intellectual interaction with materials being manipulated
  • fluid interactions with phenomena, but they sometimes are off target with intended activities
  • identifies and seeks to expand personal understanding of the concept or phenomena
  • shows little participation in discussions
  • demonstrates non-supportive behavior for others' input
  • engaged in discussion as a participant
  • does not initiate many questions
  • asks thoughtful questions
  • shows respect for other ideas
  • does not distinguish between observations and inferences
  • looks upon guesses as fact
  • has basic understanding of the differences between observation and inference.
  • understands that a hypothesis is a kind of scientific guess
  • distinguishes between observations and inferences
  • identifies relevant observations and interpretations
  • looks upon guesses as hypotheses to be tested
  • jumps to conclusions that are not based upon recent manipulations of the phenomena
  • considers data before making conclusions
  • avoids jumping to conclusions
  • identifies alternative explanations for phenomena
  • does not recognize applicability of knowledge gained from both successes and failures of experimental process
  • creative application ideas, but they do not address personal or societal needs
  • offers to apply new knowl-edge to positive benefit of society
  • does not refer to principles and concepts discovered in earlier generalizations
  • applications loosely associated with principles of concept
  • refers to principles which were discovered in the generalize stage in spite of new context
  • does not offer applications of new knowledge regardless of context
  • applications offered, but does not transcend original context
  • transfers application of concept to new context


Activity 1b



Per group: large, wide-mouthed jar, water, baby food jar, aluminum foil, food coloring, rubber bands, string, sharp pencil

  1. Have students fill a large (gallon), wide-mouthed jar two-thirds full with cold water. Next, put three drops of food coloring in a baby-food jar. Fill the baby-food jar to the top with hot water. Cover it with aluminum foil and secure the foil tightly with rubber bands. Tie a string around the baby-food jar and lower it into the bottom of the large jar. Predict what you think will happen when you punch a hole in the foil and record prediction in journal.
  2. Wait until the water is still and then punch one hole in the foil with a long pencil. Watch and record what happens. (Nothing happens because the cold water is heavier than the warm water and pressing down upon the hot water, but there is no –escape hole” allowing the warm water to be pushed out by cold.)pencil in water
  3. Ask students why nothing happens with just one hole. Ask for solutions and then have them punch a second hole, observe and record.
  4. Ask what they observed when the second hole was punched? Did the colored fluid rise from only one, or both of the holes? What are your ideas about this? How long will it keep rising? After a long time, what will the fluid in the large jar be like? What are your ideas about why this is so? (The colored hot water will rise from one hole in a fairly straight line. As it rises, it will cool and begin to both sink and diffuse into the cold water as water temperatures equilibrate. Depending upon water tempera-tures, a complete convection cell may or may not be visible with the red/hot water.)
  5. Ask students to compare this activity to the door activities. What do they now think the air movement in a warm room on a cold day might look like?

Activity 1c****

Getting Ready


The last two activities demonstrated what happens when fluids of unequal temperature meet. This activity demonstrates how warm and cold surfaces affect air. To do this, an observation box and smoke-filled air piston must be created as follows:


Observation Box: 1 per Student Team

1 cardboard box (about 30 cm x 30 cm x 50cm) per team
clear plastic food wrap
plastic tape
Smoke Piston
1 large air piston
1 plastic straw
heavy cotton string, 12 cm long
baby food jar of tap water

  1. Remove one side of the box; then cut a window in two sides as shown. but leave about 1/3 of the top intact. Tape plastic food wrap over the windows so that they are airtight. In one end of the box, cut a small hole just large enough to insert a plastic
  2. Cut the straw into 4-5cm lengths. Cut the string into lengths of about 4cm. Double one of the pieces of string twice or more until it will fit snugly in the end of a piece of the plastic straw. Leave about 1/2 cm of the doubled string sticking out of the straw. Repeat the procedure for the other pieces.measure
  3. Slip a section of the prepared straw onto the air piston. Light the string, being careful not to melt the straw. Collect smoke in the cylinder by slowly drawing out the plunger. Remove the straw and lay it aside where it won't burn anything. You may need more smoke later. Insert figure six with step 3 narrative.
  1. Working in student teams, place a pan of cold water, ice water, ice cubes or snow inside the observation box. Be sure the straw is in place through the end of the box. The end of the straw should not be over the pan of water.
  2. Insert a smoke-filled air piston into the straw of the observation box. Gently force smoke through the straw into the box so that it moves very slowly over the cold water. Observe and record what happens to the smoke.cold water
  3. Repeat using a pan of hot water. Observe and record what happens.
  1. Ask student to report what they observed with the smoke and cold water. (See diagrams below.) Ask them to use arrows to diagram the movement of air in the box. What are their ideas about this? How about for hot water?cold waterhot water
  2. Ask how these observations and ideas compare with their earlier ideas about the open door.
  1. Ask students what their ideas now are about air movement when a door is opened on a cold day? Ask them to review their original journal predictions and revise the diagram/explanation using evidence from explorations as support for their ideas.
  2. Take students outside on a calm day when smoke is visible from smoke stacks. Ask them to diagram and explain smoke movement and air temperatures at different levels using evidence from these explorations in support of their ideas. (See sample diagram)


  1. Ask students to imagine a hot summer day in Selawik where the air temperature is much warmer than the water temperature of Selawik Lake. Ask them to diagram air movement and explain it using evidence from these explorations.
  2. Ask what might wind patterns be like in the late fall just before freeze-up of Selawik Lake when the water temperatures are warmer than air temperatures, particularly at night? Do your predictions match your experience? Check with the TF to see if your predictions match his or her experience.
Assessment Embedded assessment using LCM Scoring Guide Student self-assessment using LCM Scoring Guide Review and response to student journal entries


* Gould, A., (1988) p.30

** Note: originally called "Learning Cycle Model: Analytical Trait Assessment" in Murphy, N. 1992 pp 27-28

*** Opening a freezer door also works

**** Adapted from Intermediate Science Curriculum Study (1972) p. 2-4



Section I - Observing Locally

Section II - Understanding Wind

Section III - Connecting Globally

Appendix A - Selawik Weather Information from Jonas Ramoth

Appendix B - Assessment

Appendix C - Weather Resource List

Appendix D - Interdisciplinary Integration



Whouy Sze Kuinalth
"Teaching Our Many Grandchildren"
Tauhna Cauyalitahtug
(To Make a Drum)
Math Story Problems
St. Lawrence Island Rain Parka Winds and Weather Willow
Driftwood Snowshoes Moose
Plants of the Tundra Animal Classification for Yup'ik Region Rabbit Snaring
The Right Tool for the Job
Fishing Tools and Technology
Blackfish Family Tree
Medicinal Plants of the Kodiak Alutiiq Archipelago Beaver in Interior Alaska Digging and Preparing Spruce Roots
Moose in Interior Alaska Birds Around the Village  


Handbook for Culturally Responsive Science Curriculum by Sidney Stephens
Excerpt: "The information and insights contained in this document will be of interest to anyone involved in bringing local knowledge to bear in school curriculum. Drawing upon the efforts of many people over a period of several years, Sidney Stephens has managed to distill and synthesize the critical ingredients for making the teaching of science relevant and meaningful in culturally adaptable ways."



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Last modified August 18, 2006