Project Ideas Project Guide Ask An Expert Blog Science Careers Teachers Parents Students
All Lesson Plans

Oceanic Circulation: What Keeps the Ocean in Motion?

Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
3-4 students
Active Time
100 minutes
Total Time
100 minutes
Area of Science
Ocean Sciences
Environmental Science
Key Concepts
Oceanic circulation, convection, climate, density, temperature
Learning Objectives
  • Understand the ocean's impact on global climate.
  • Investigate and describe how temperature differences drive oceanic water movement.
  • Explain how climate change can affect oceanic circulation systems.
works with google science journal app
ocean circulation lesson plan setup

Overview

Why is the ocean vital to our planet? There are many reasons, but one important one is that the ocean is a major player in regulating our weather and climate through currents. In this lesson plan, your students will model ocean currents with cups, water, and food coloring, and explore how temperature and density differences set deep ocean waters in motion to create a global oceanic circulation system.

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
  • MS-ESS2-6. Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Developing and Using Models. Develop and use a model to describe phenomena.

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations. Collect data to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence to answer scientific questions or test design solutions under a range of conditions.

Analyzing and Interpreting Data. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena.
ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes. Variations in density due to variations in temperature and salinity drive a global pattern of interconnected ocean currents.

ESS2.D: Weather and Climate. The ocean exerts a major influence on weather and climate by absorbing energy from the sun, releasing it over time, and globally redistributing it through ocean currents.
Energy and Matter. Within a natural or designed system, the transfer of energy drives the motion and/or cycling of matter.

Systems and System Models. Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

Scale Proportion and Quantity. Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.

Credits

Svenja Lohner, PhD, Science Buddies

Materials


ocean circulation lesson plan materials

Materials per group of 3–4 students:

  • Plastic cups, 9 oz. (2 of the same size)
  • CD
  • Laminated paper or stiff plastic sheet; available from Amazon.com. Plastic strips cut from the lid of clamshell boxes for fresh produce also work well.
  • Food coloring (dark colors such as blue and green work better than light colors)
  • Hot water
  • Ice water
  • Spoon for mixing
  • Small flashlight
  • Immersion thermometer; available from Amazon.com
  • Aluminum tray
  • Smartphone or tablet with Google's Science Journal app, available for free on Google Play for Android devices (version 4.4 or newer) or from the App Store for iOS devices (iOS 9.3 or newer).
    Note: This project was tested with the Android version of Science Journal in which light intensity is measured using the ambient light sensor and given in lux. The iOS version uses the phone's camera to measure brightness resulting in data expressed in EV (Exposure Value). Lux values and Exposure Values are not the same. Whereas Exposure Value is a base-2 logarithmic scale, the lux scale is linear. This might affect your data and result in different values and graphs when you are using an iOS version of the app—both versions will work for this project though. The graph examples given in the procedure show light intensity in lux.

Materials for teacher preparation and demonstration:

  • Scissors
  • World map or globe
  • Plastic cup
  • Food coloring
  • Teaspoon

Reviews

|
Was this review helpful?
Be the first one to review this lesson plan.
Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
3-4 students
Active Time
100 minutes
Total Time
100 minutes
Area of Science
Ocean Sciences
Environmental Science
Key Concepts
Oceanic circulation, convection, climate, density, temperature
works with google science journal app
Learning Objectives
  • Understand the ocean's impact on global climate.
  • Investigate and describe how temperature differences drive oceanic water movement.
  • Explain how climate change can affect oceanic circulation systems.

Teacher Tool Box