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Lifesaving Layers—Earth’s Atmosphere

What’s happening above your head? You can’t see the Earth’s atmosphere, but its layers are waiting for you to explore!

  • Grade 3
    Grade 4
    Grade 5
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • Directions

    1. The atmosphere around our planet is a lifesaver. Not only does it protect us from powerful UV rays and the sun’s heat, but it also is a barrier from the vacuum of outer space. Starting about 800 miles (1,280 km) from the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere has layers of differing distances. Ask students to research the names and characteristics of each layer of the Earth's atmosphere.
    2. Using their new learning about the atmosphere, students create a representation of the atmosphere. Beginning with a clean foam produce tray, students calibrate and mark with a Crayola® Washable Marker each atmospheric zone. Include the separating "pause" layers. Leave one side of the tray for labels. These zones are grouped by their chemical composition, air movement, density, and temperature. Color each area using the appropriate colors (red for hottest, blue for coolest) and blend to accurately portray each layer’s temperatures. Color the Earth’s surface green and outer space black.
    3. Students mark each atmospheric layer with a number or letter. With Crayola Scissors, cut slick, nonporous, brightly colored paper to fit inside another produce tray. Write a key with layer names and other information on the paper. Trim the tray to fit the paper and glue them together with a Crayola Glue Stick.
    4. To make a standing exhibit, attach the atmosphere tray to the key with wooden toothpicks to form an L-shaped display.
  • Standards

    LA: Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.

    LA: Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

    LA: Summarize a written text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

    LA: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

    MATH: Solve problems involving measurement and conversion of measurements from a larger unit to a smaller unit.

    SCI: Construct models to describe systems interactions for the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere and identify the limitations of the models.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Exploring the Sky by Day: The Equinox Guide to Weather and the Atmosphere by Terence Dickinson; The Atmosphere: Planetary Heat Engine by George Vogt; Earth's Outer Atmosphere: Bordering Space by Gregory Vogt

    What is global warming? Students work in teams of two or small groups to answer this question as well as identify how humans influence the Earth's atmosphere, what has been done in the past that has affected the atmosphere in a negative way and what societies need to do to keep the atmosphere healthy for the future. Organize research into an electronic format for presentation to classmates.

    Working in small groups, students investigate the art of persuasion. Students view videos that are designed to sell you a product or convince you to behave in some way. Students use their research on the Earth's atmosphere to compose a script for a video that will convince people to take care of the atmosphere. Videotape the students performance and upload it to a classroom computer for viewing.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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