Part 1: Materials

8th Grade Science Textbook (one book in a collection that focuses only on certain topics)
Title: Science Explorer-Weather and Climate
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Date of Publication: 2000
Author: Barbara Brooks-Simons
Subject: Earth Science- Weather and Climate
Age Level: Middle School
Ability Level: General Earth Science (class is Severe SpEd, SpEd, and Regular students)


Part 2: Unpacking


MI Standards and Benchmarks
Learning Goal for Middle School Level: Atmosphere and Weather (EAW) V.3

All students will analyze the relationships between human activities and the atmosphere.
SCI.V.3.H.4 Explain the impact of human activities on the atmosphere and explain ways that individuals and society can reduce air pollution.
Key concepts: Air pollution—car exhaust, industrial emissions, smog. Related effects—breathing problems, acid rain, global warming, deforestation, ozone depletion.
Real-world contexts: Examples of human activities that affect the atmosphere, including use of aerosol spray cans, discharge from smoke stacks, car exhaust, burning leaves and wood in stoves and fireplaces, climate change, global warming; actions, including turning off lights, turning down heat, tuning-up cars, filling tires, driving at a consistent speed, mandating higher fuel efficiencies, energy savings from recycling.

What does the standard mean?
This standard is meant to tie in the knowledge that students know about the atmosphere and weather unit, and help the students to apply it to their lives. This standard’s purpose is to show students how their everyday actions affect the environment, specifically the atmosphere and air quality.

What prior knowledge do students need to understand the standard?
  • General knowledge of atmosphere
  • Concept of pollution and emissions
  • Knowledge of what fossil fuels are (coal, oil, and gas) and how they are used
  • Properties of Carbon
  • Concept of what air quality means
  • Knowledge of ozone layer
  • Recognition of microscopic particles in air (pollen, dust)
  • Experience knowing what allergies are

What misconceptions might students have around the topics contained in the standard?
  • If I can’t see the pollution, then it’s not there and it can’t affect me
  • Once I can’t see the pollution anymore, it disappears
  • I don’t live in a big inner city so there is no air pollution in my town
  • Novice “quick fix” ideas about how to prevent and reduce pollution
  • We need pollution because it makes clouds, and we need clouds
  • Don’t understand what causes air pollution, or what it is made up of
  • Pollution is like germs you breathe in, if you wash your hands, you won’t get sick
  • I don’t smoke/have asthma, so I should be able to breathe fine regardless of air pollution
  • Students don’t have a grasp of how much pollution is caused by a car vs. truck vs. factory
  • Acid rain will burn me, and melt my skin like acid does in the movies
  • Acid rain would hurt me if it fell on me. The rain here is not acidic, because it feels fine.

Part 3: Analyze selected features of the textbook.

Category III: Engaging Students with Relevant Phenomena

  • Criterion III.A: Providing a Variety of Phenomena: Does the material provide multiple and varied phenomena to support the key ideas?

Sightings: There is an entire section in the Atmosphere chapter entitled “Air Quality.” In this section the authors explain the key concepts of the Benchmark. They write about the connection to a person’s health and use a picture to show the many parts of a person’s body that are affected by pollution and how people in other countries deal with their air pollution. Pollutants are explained by showing the natural and unnatural causes of them. The book explains what fossil fuels contribute to air pollution. Next they go on to discuss particles in the air and link in ideas of allergies, and show ways that particles get into the air (naturally, and human influenced). There are also specific sections about smog and acid rain, with examples of where, how, and why they form. They give examples of what they would look like, and what the effects are. The final subsection addresses how to improve air quality, with a explanation of laws and regulations that the government has passed. They give a state of air pollution today in the US, and world, and address issues with cars and standards in order to bring the issue into present day discussions.
Rating: Satisfactory
Air pollution—car exhaust and smog are thoroughly addressed in the section, but industrial emissions is not really addressed at all. It would have been nice if they talked more about this, so students would be able to more clearly see that this is an initiative that cannot only be addressed on the individual level, but must also have cooperation and mobilization on the industry level.
Related effects—breathing problems and acid rain are thoroughly addressed in the section, but, global warming, deforestation, and ozone depletion are not addressed at all in the air quality chapter. However, global warming and ozone depletion are addressed in a later chapter in which the effects from humans are shown in the explanation and lessons about the global changes in the atmosphere. In both cases, the sentence pertaining to the human influence is bolded, indicating the authors do believe it to be important for the students to know. Deforestation is not addressed in the book. I think it would be nice for these topics to be at least lightly addressed in the section on Air Quality so the students can begin to form a larger picture of what are the affects on pollution on the atmosphere.
Real-world contexts: Examples of human activities that affect the atmosphere, including car exhaust, and mandating higher fuel efficiencies, use of aerosol spray cans, global warming, and climate change are addressed in the textbook. However, many of the real-world concepts are not addressed. Many of the day-to-day applications about how a student could make an affect on the environment, (or lobby to their parents to change) are not discussed. These include turning off lights, turning down heat, tuning-up cars, filling tires, driving at a consistent speed, and energy savings from recycling. I think it would be especially good to teach students about the personal impact they can make on the environment for the simple fact that they can feel empowered to make a difference. By only providing examples of driving (which these students can’t do for 3 years anyway) they are being left out of the initiative for better air quality.


  • Criterion III.B: Providing Vivid Experiences: Does the material include activities that provide firsthand experiences with phenomena when practical or provide students with a vicarious sense of the phenomena when not practical?

Sightings: There are two experiences that provide students with a beginning look at what is in the air, and how some pollutants get in the air. One lab involves a vacuum and coffee filter to see how many particles can be collected and observed with a microscope after 30 minutes; the other burns a candle under a jar to show the residue left/given off in the burning process. The book also provides questions for further inquiry at home to see what particles are in the air. For instances in which a student can’t go to a forest to see the affects of acid rain, or go to a country where there is very bad pollution, there are pictures so students can get a better idea.
Rating: Poor-Satisfactory
I think both of the experiences address misconceptions about nothing being in the air, and what you can’t see, disappearing. However, I would have liked to have seen some more examples about acid rain, and maybe a lab that would test the ph level of the rain in the area of the students. Also, some sort of experiment about the level of emissions given off by cars/vehicles in their area would help to put the issue into perspective. By not addressing other issues, the labs/vivid experiences fall short of what they could be, in order to increase the students’ first-hand knowledge.


Category IV: Developing and Using Scientific Ideas

  • Criterion IV.B: Representing Ideas Effectively

Sightings: In this section there is not a very diverse collection of representations. There are pictures of people, key ideas and experiments in action. There is one picture of a microscopic view of pollen, and other than that, only experiments and at home activities are suggested. However, for this type of topic, there really are no diagrams to include as it’s a more humanities based content, rather than natural science.

Rating: Poor
The textbook provides what I believe to be a set of firsthand and vicarious experiences is that satisfactorily meet the requirements of the Benchmark. But, like I stated earlier, I think that there could be a wider range of topics covered in the experiments. The pictures they have are useful and clearly labeled/defined, and their purpose is recognizably related to the text. However, there could be more pictures of air pollution and it’s affects on natural elements (i.e. the acid rain picture), so students could get a real view of what to expect from severe air pollution.

Part 4: Modifications*

*My additions to the textbook are in italics

Faced with designing a lesson sequence to address the topic, I would first talk to the CT to see what kind of prior knowledge the students have, and see what they have already covered. I wouldn’t want to walk in to teaching expecting them to know more (or less) and have to compensate dramatically one way or the other. I would make a 3-day lesson to teach the concepts covered in the Benchmark.

Day One: I would introduce the class with the candle/jar experiment from the book. This would bring up the idea of burning releasing elements into the air. I would then ask the class about other things they know are in the air, (dust, pollen, etc.). (ex. Ever see dust in front of a projector/flashlight?) I would also ask if they think there are any good or bad things about the pollutants. I would use today to go over the health issues associated with air pollution (using pictures from the book). I would then move into describing how pollutants get into the air. I would ask the students to get with a partner and use the two paragraphs in the book to make a list of natural causes, and human causes. I would ask the class for volunteers to give what they found in the book, and write them on the board. I would then go through in more detail where the book lacks in it’s explanation of how pollutants are specifically caused by the various sources, and bring up other ideas (perhaps with visuals) of things in the Benchmarks that are not discussed in the book. I would then use diagrams and pictures not in the book to show what smog is, and tell how it forms, and also describe how acid rain forms, and where they both can be found, and why they are harmful. At the end of the hour, we would set up an experiment to test the affects of acid rain on objects—not in the book: (vinegar on a penny, vs. water; etc.), and bring up the Ph they tested in the river field trip.

Day Two: We would continue to cover the related effects of pollution, and begin to put it into a real-world context. Today we would be evaluating what happened to the penny (other test item), and why it happened, and what are the overlying themes of that lab, why is it important not to have acid rain?! After they establish the idea that pollution is bad, and have them recap what the main sources of human instigated pollution is, start to brainstorm solutions. Write ideas that the class has on the board, and bring up any that they don’t talk about. Hand out articles of different subjects to different groups in relation to efforts made by companies, or not made, to reduce their emissions or pollution output. Articles could also include laws, government initiatives and positives and drawbacks of each. These articles would provide an application and sense of importance for the students to learn—since they will see that it’s a very heated debate that people spend a lot of money researching. In a patchwork type of group project, have the students come up with the main points from their article, and begin to present them to the class. I will write the main points from each on the board. Continue presenting til the hour is over.

Day Three: The final day, we would continue the presentations of the articles, after having talked about all of the elements pertinent to air pollution for the benchmark, I would make a lesson about how to make a change in the community yourself. Collaborating with the Language Arts teacher, I would work with the students to write letters to their choice of a car company, industry, government environmental agency, or lawmaker. They should apply the knowledge they know to inform the reader that their actions are positively appreciated, or should be changed, and include reasons to support either stance from the reading. The students would have in class to work on this assignment, which is one that would bring in the “Community Based Education” aspect, and make the students more accountable, and eager to hear back from their chosen company, or organization. This type of proactive nature is something that the text does not address, that I would like to cover in my teaching.