Textbook Review

Part 1: Materials

8th Grade Science Textbook (one of a series split up by topics/units)
Title: Science Explorer-Weather and Climate
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Date of Publication: 2000
Author: Barbara Brooks Simons
Subject: Science- Weather and Climate
Age Level: Middle School
Ability Level: For those with prerequisite knowledge of the general characteristics of the Earth and its systems.

Part 2: Unpacking

Learning Goal: (Benchmark: The Physical Setting: B. The Earth: Grades 9-12)

-Atmospheric densities and the rotation of the Earth produce winds.

What does the standard mean?

The atmosphere is compiled of different layers dependent upon temperature and varying densities. Unequal heating of the Earth’s surface affects air pressure and density of the atmosphere at different locations. Differences in air pressure cause parcels of air to rise/fall thus creating winds. Local winds refer to wind production in a small area. Convection currents along with the Coriolis Effect (resultant of the Earth’s rotation) describe the pattern of global winds.

What prior knowledge do students need to understand the standard?

-General characteristics of the Earth (i.e. atmosphere)
-Ability for interaction between Earth systems
-Sun is responsible for heating the Earth and transfers energy
-Concepts of air pressure and density
-Rotation of the Earth
-Role of gravity in movement of denser materials

What misconceptions might students have around the topics contained in the standard?

-Winds are caused simply by the rotation of the Earth.
-Air pressure depends upon your location on Earth.
-Convection currents travel in one continuous cycle from equator to poles or around lines of latitude.
-Winds move from west to east.
-Hurricanes/tornadoes produce winds.
-If the Earth spun faster we would experience more wind.

Part 3: Analyze selected features of the textbook.

Category III: Engaging Students with Relevant Phenomena

  • Criterion III.A: Providing a Variety of Phenomena


-Text description of energy received from the sun and in the atmosphere. Diagrams display sun’s rays heating Earth’s surface both via direct and indirect sunlight. Mini-lab involves heating water vs. sand with a light to demonstrate differential heat transfer (represents land, water, and the sun). Pictures/diagrams showing movement of particles in relation to temperature. Diagram of heat transfer contrasting convection, conduction, and radiation. Demonstration representing rotation of the Earth (balloon) and the movement of winds (lines drawn with markers). Diagrams displaying global wind belts and the Coriolis effect due to rotation. Connections made between winds and climate.

Rating: Satisfactory

The phenomena used in the textbook do a good job of making the concepts described relevant and concrete for students. Labs and activities visually displayed topics. The phenomena used were creative and represented information in a variety of ways (i.e. different hands-on activities, various diagrams etc.). Although a diverse array of phenomena are used they do not necessarily apply to the main concepts of the unit. Some major concepts are displayed via diagrams but not represented through other phenomena (i.e. labs). A few extremely important topics were described thoroughly in the text but not represented with phenomena.

  • Criterion III.B: Providing Vivid Experiences


Firsthand experience is encountered through warm-up activities that introduce the topic of the day. Students conduct mini-experiments such as trapping heat with plastic bags, observing what happens when air is heated, and discovering paths of the wind. Other activities involve full-length labs (where is the wind?, and heating Earth’s surface). Additionally, the book includes extra firsthand experience activities which students can conduct in their personal time to reinforce important concepts.

Rating: Satisfactory

I do believe the textbook does a very good job of providing students with an abundance of firsthand experiences. The firsthand experiences included in the book do a great job of efficiently explaining the concept at hand in a simplistic yet engaging way. I gave the rating of satisfactory because I am not sure that the vicarious experiences efficiently describe concepts. It appears that sometimes more complex topics are illustrated via vicarious experiences and less complex topics paired with actual firsthand activities/demonstrations. I wouldn’t necessarily say the amount of vicarious and firsthand experiences are sufficient because I believe even more firsthand experiences could be applied and helpful to students. The firsthand experiences included within the textbook are well-thought out, extremely applicable, and effective but perhaps even more activities could be included.

Category IV: Developing and Using Scientific Ideas

  • Criterion IV.B: Representing Ideas Effectively


A variety of representations exist: pictures, diagrams, labs, mini-experiments, activities, figures, out of class suggested activities. Diagrams are clearly labeled and explained and accurately pertain to the topics covered. The diagrams are simplistic so that they clearly
communicate important ideas without being overwhelming. Multiple representations accompany over-arching themes and use a variety of illustrations/experiences to ensure the topic is understood. All representations appear to be accurate and help students easily draw conclusions pertaining to the main idea of the concept without getting bogged down in the details of breaking down the representation itself.

Rating: Poor

The textbook does include a variety of representations, all of which are accurate and display information in a simplistic way. Although there are a sufficient number of representations for important topics the representations are not of a diverse nature. A few of the major themes (i.e. global circulation) are explained with multiple representations but they tend to consist solely of diagrams or pictures. To understand key ideas students should experience multiple forms of representation so that they receive a variety of opportunities to fully grasp the concept at hand. Diversity of representation specifically for main ideas was the only factor keeping the textbook from receiving a rating of “satisfactory/excellent”.

Part 4: Modifications

If I were to design a lesson for this learning goal I would begin by breaking apart the learning goal itself. Focusing upon individual aspects, prior to bringing the themes together to display their interaction, is necessary in order for students to gain a complete and accurate understanding of the material. For each subtopic related to the learning goal I would use a mini-introduction activity to get an idea of student’s prior knowledge before engaging full-speed into the material. Next I would explain the concepts to students via verbal/text explanation including demonstration and whole-class activities (multiple representations). Lastly, I would allow student to further explore the topic and solidify their understanding by engaging in firsthand experiences such as activities.

To better understand the learning goal I would make alterations to some of the representations used in the textbook. I would include more and a greater variety of representations for the key ideas associated with the learning goal (i.e. circulation). The textbook provides a lot of ways in which the material is represented but main ideas are not really emphasized with additional or alternate representations. Using a combination of demonstrations, labs, and diagrams, would be more likely to successfully create student understanding than if only one of these representations is employed. I would keep the representations used within the textbook because I think they do a great job of effectively explaining the information and are well-suited for the middle school age group (applicable yet not overly complex).

Depending upon student’s prior knowledge a review of certain concepts (such as density, rotation of the Earth, heat via the sun) may be essential in order for students to understand the topics within the learning goal. I would also add the phenomena of earth systems and their interactions. I would use diagrams, pictures, and videos to help display interacting Earth systems (i.e. heat transfer and atmospheric circulation) because it is vital that students understand the dynamic and multiple roles that Earth systems play. This general concept would be touched upon at the beginning of the unit and then stressed towards the end once students can recognize specific interactions as they relate to the learning goal.

Although the textbook appears to be a helpful resource in developing students’ knowledge of the learning goal it must be used in the right way. First, I must help students understand which key ideas to focus upon and how to identify main ideas within the textbook. Providing students with a daily agenda including “topic of the day” will allow them to recognize main topics within the textbook and the supporting information which acts as details to help them understand the topic. Certain representations can be confusing, so as the teacher I must assist students in recognizing how the representation relates to the topic. Verbally/visually explaining diagrams and teaching students how to read charts or analyze pictures is another way I can help students get more out of their textbooks. Activities and labs should be discussed and perhaps prompted with questions for students to ponder while they conduct these activities. Directions for difficult activities should be reiterated verbally. Additionally, I should build students’ skills in regards to following directions, critically thinking, and predicting by demonstrating and guiding students as to how they should conduct labs and thought processes they should consider.