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Middle School    |    Daily Do

Why are most auroras observed near the North and South Poles?

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Why are most auroras observed near the North and South Poles?

Earth & Space Science Is Lesson Plan Physical Science Middle School

Sensemaking Checklist

What is Sensemaking?

Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates that students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.

Lesson Snapshot

Middle school students, as scientists, investigate Earth’s magnetic field and its interactions with solar wind particles to answer the driving question: Why are most auroras observed near the poles? Students read an account of an aurora observation and analyze a map showing where auroras are commonly observed. Students develop an initial model to explain the patterns observed in the aurora observation map. Students then consider the evidence they need to determine the relationship between the phenomenon and the factors identified in their explanations. Students decide to analyze temperature data first and determine the data does not support a causal relationship between low temperatures and auroras. Next, students decide to investigate the North and South Pole and if they are connected to the poles of magnets. Students notice that Earth has a field similar to a magnet’s field and learn that it is generated by the motion of liquid iron (an electrical conductor) in Earth’s core. Finally, through a series of videos and images, students figure out the auroras result from interactions between solar wind particles and gases in Earth’s atmosphere. Students use the information obtained to build a class consensus and individual models that explain the phenomenon.

This lesson plan was created in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University Press, the Johns Hopkins Office of Research, and Dr. Sabine Stanley, based on her 2023 Wavelengths book, What’s Hidden Inside Planets?

Alaskan aurora image copyright 2023 Eric Rock

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Student Materials

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Teacher Materials

Slide Deck

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