Essential Principle 7: Correlation to Standards and Curriculum Connections

Severe Weather Ahead! Photo courtesy of gainesp2003, Flickr.

Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives is the last of seven Essential Principles of Climate Sciences. Principle 7 describes the consequences of a warming climate including sea-level rise, declining availability of freshwater resources, increasing extreme weather, acidification of the oceans, disruption to ecosystems, and effects to human health and agriculture. A great challenge of the 21st century will be to prepare communities to adapt to climate change while reducing human impacts on the climate system (known as mitigation). Other factors such as poverty, a lack of resources, the absence of political will, and the necessity for nations to work together add further complexity to this challenge. Many jobs, if not entire industries, will be affected by the changes that are happening or are anticipated for the future.

These are serious consequences and, as written, are not appropriate for inclusion in elementary science. Instead, we advocate teaching about some of these phenomena in general, without tying them to climate change. In this issue of Beyond Weather and the Water Cycle, we’ve highlighted lessons about the availability of freshwater worldwide and extreme weather events. If students leave the elementary grades knowing that freshwater is a limited resource and understanding how and why extreme weather events occur, they will be well poised to understand the consequences of climate change in later grades.

Looking at learning objectives and excerpts from the National Science Education Standards (1996) associated with Principle 7 concepts will help you determine what is appropriate for our youngest learners (see the National Science Education Standards section of this article). Lessons and activities that provide hands-on experiences can help students develop an appreciation and understanding of science and can be found in all of the Science Lessons articles. Content area reading, such as our Feature Stories and titles from our Virtual Bookshelves, can extend and supplement hands-on inquiry. You can read more about the science content knowledge needed to understand these concepts in the article Climate Change: Consequences and Repercussions in this issue.

Since we are focusing on the availability of freshwater and extreme weather events, let’s look at some common misconceptions associated with the water cycle and weather. We also highlight tools for formative assessment in the Curriculum Connections section.

Curriculum Connections


Misconceptions are referred to as preconceived notions, nonscientific beliefs, naive theories, mixed conceptions, or conceptual misunderstandings. Basically, in science these are cases in which something a person believes does not match what is known to be scientifically correct.

Water droplet blue. Photo courtesy of Fir0002, Wikimedia Commons.

Misconceptions may form as individuals attempt to make sense of the natural world, or as a result of the difference between scientific language and everyday language. In other cases, misconceptions may actually form or be strengthened as a result of instruction. Once formed, these misconceptions can be tenacious – persisting even in the face of discrepant events or careful instruction. Research has documented that students may be able to provide the “correct” answer in science class yet still not abandon their previously formed idea.

While identifying student misconceptions is fairly straightforward, creating conceptual change is not. Researchers recommend using a hands-on approach and providing adequate time and repeated activities to create the conditions necessary for conceptual change. However, it is important to understand that children may be quite resistant to change even when these recommendations are carefully followed. In some situations, researchers found that students developed two parallel explanations for scientific events: one for science class and one for the “real world”! Instead of becoming discouraged, teachers should be aware of the ideas that students bring with them to science and how these might influence instruction and learning. However, there are steps that elementary teachers can take to ensure that students begin to develop correct scientific concepts. Evaluating lesson plans, textbooks, and children’s literature for correct use of terminology and concepts is an important step in promoting scientific understanding.

The following table includes some common misconceptions about weather.

Many students think . . . Instead of thinking . . . .
The seasons cause the weather to change. Certain weather patterns and temperatures are associated with a particular season. A season is simply a human classification, not a force that causes weather.
Clouds form because cold air doesn’t hold as much water as warm air. Cloud formation depends on the balance between water evaporating and condensing. Water molecules are continually changing state between solid, liquid, and gas. Clouds form when more molecules evaporate into the atmosphere than can condense on earth.
Clouds are made of water vapor. Clouds are mainly tiny water droplets or ice crystals. Water vapor is invisible.
Clouds always predict rain. Clouds may predict but do not guarantee rain.
Raindrops look like tear drops. Raindrops are spherical.
Rain falls when clouds become too heavy. Rain falls when the water droplets in the cloud become too heavy to remain airborne.
Lightning never strikes the same place twice. Lightning tends to strike the highest place in an area, so the same place may be struck more than once.
Thunder occurs when two clouds collide. Thunder and lightning are the result of a large transfer of charge between clouds.
Cold days are caused by the clouds covering the sun. Temperature depends on many factors, such as time of year, location, elevation, and winds.
Snow and ice make it cold. Snow and ice are a result of cold temperatures, not the cause.
Cold temperatures produce fast winds. Winds are a result of the uneven heating of Earth’s surface and the resulting rise and fall of differently heated air masses.

The following table includes some common misconceptions about water cycle.

Many students think . . . Instead of thinking . . . .
The water cycle involves freezing and melting of water. The water cycle involves evaporation of liquid water, condensation of water vapor, and precipitation (rain, sleet, hail, or snow).
Water only gets evaporated from the ocean or lakes. Water can evaporate from plants, animals, puddles, and the ground in addition to bodies of water.
The water cycle only includes rain and snow. Ice in all its forms (sea ice, glaciers, ice sheets, icebergs, permafrost) is part of the global water cycle.

You can find more misconceptions related to the study of climate in all of the Standards and Curriculum Connections articles.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is a useful tool for learning about student misconceptions, tailoring instruction to challenge them, and continually evaluating the effectiveness of your instruction in promoting conceptual change. Several resources from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) provide valuable information for teachers wishing to incorporate formative assessment into their science instruction.

Science Formative Assessments: 75 Practical Strategies for Linking Assessment, Instruction, and Learning by Page Keeley provides specific techniques that use assessment to inform instruction and learning in K-12 science classrooms.

Another useful set of resources from NSTA Press is the Uncovering Student Ideas in Science series. Each volume contains 25 formative assessment probes for use with students, as well as research, suggestions for classroom use, and inquiry-based teaching ideas. To date, there are four volumes in the series:

Correlations to the National Science Education Standards

A study of the impact of climate change on sea levels, distribution of freshwater, weather, chemistry of water, ecosystems, and human health are reflected within the Life Science, Earth and Space Science, Physical Science, and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives content standards of the National Science Education Standards for Grades K-4 and 5-8.

Grades K-4 Life Science Content Standard C

As a result of the activities in grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of


  • An organism’s patterns of behavior are related to the nature of that organism’s environment, including the kinds and numbers of other organisms present, the availability of food and resources, and the physical characteristics of the environment. When the environment changes, some plants and animals survive and reproduce and others die or move to new locations.
  • Humans depend on their natural and constructed environments. Humans change environments in ways that can be either beneficial or detrimental for themselves and other organisms.

Developing Student Understanding

During the elementary grades, children build understanding of biological concepts through direct experience with living things, their life cycles, and their habitats. These experiences emerge from the sense of wonder and natural interests of children who ask questions such as: ”How do plants get food? How many different animals are there? Why do some animals eat other animals? What is the largest plant? Where did the dinosaurs go?” An understanding of the characteristics of organisms, life cycles of organisms, and of the complex interactions among all components of the natural environment begins with questions such as these and an understanding of how individual organisms maintain and continue life. Making sense of the way organisms live in their environments will develop some understanding of the diversity of life and how all living organisms depend on the living and nonliving environment for survival. Because the child’s world at grades K-4 is closely associated with the home, school, and immediate environment, the study of organisms should include observations and interactions within the natural world of the child. The experiences and activities in grades K-4 provide a concrete foundation for the progressive development in the later grades of major biological concepts, such as evolution, heredity, the cell, the biosphere, interdependence, the behavior of organisms, and matter and energy in living systems.

Young children think concretely about individual organisms. For example, animals are associated with pets or with animals kept in a zoo. The idea that organisms depend on their environment (including other organisms in some cases) is not well developed in young children. In grades K-4, the focus should be on establishing the primary association of organisms with their environments and the secondary ideas of dependence on various aspects of the environment and of behaviors that help various animals survive. Lower elementary students can understand the food link between two organisms.

 Grades K-4 Earth and Space Science Content Standard D

As a result of their activities in grades K-4, all students should develop an understanding of


  • Weather changes from day to day and over the seasons. Weather can be described by measurable quantities, such as temperature, wind direction and speed, and precipitation.

Developing Student Understanding
Young children are naturally interested in everything they see around them – soil, rocks, streams, rain, snow, clouds, rainbows, sun, moon, and stars. During the first years of school, they should be encouraged to observe closely the objects and materials in their environment, note their properties, distinguish one from another and develop their own explanations of how things become the way they are. As children become more familiar with their world, they can be guided to observe changes, including cyclic changes, such as night and day and the seasons; predictable trends, such as growth and decay, and less consistent changes, such as weather or the appearance of meteors.

Children should have opportunities to observe rapid changes, such as the movement of water in a stream, as well as gradual changes, such as the erosion of soil and the change of the seasons. Emphasis in grades K-4 should be on developing observation and description skills and the explanations based on observations. Younger children should be encouraged to talk about and draw what they see and think. Older students can keep journals, use instruments, and record their observations and measurements.

Grades K-4 Physical Science Content Standard B


  • Objects have many observable properties, including size, weight, shape, color, temperature, and the ability to react with other substances. Those properties can be measured using tools, such as rulers, balances, and thermometers.
  • Objects are made of one or more materials, such as paper, wood, and metal. Objects can be described by the properties of the materials from which they are made, and those properties can be used to separate or sort a group of objects or materials.
  • Materials can exist in different states—solid, liquid, and gas. Some common materials, such as water, can be changed from one state to another by heating or cooling.

Developing Student Understanding
Physical science in grades K-4 includes topics that give students a chance to increase their understanding of the characteristics of objects and materials that they encounter daily. Through the observation, manipulation, and classification of common objects, children reflect on the similarities and differences of the objects. Young children begin their study of matter by examining and qualitatively describing objects and their behavior. The important but abstract ideas of science, such as atomic structure of matter and the conservation of energy, all begin with observing and keeping track of the way the world behaves. When carefully observed, described, and measured, the properties of objects, changes in properties over time, and the changes that occur when materials interact provide the necessary precursors to the later introduction of more abstract ideas in the upper grade levels.

Grades K-4 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard F

As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop understanding of


  • Environments are the space, conditions, and factors that affect an individual’s and a population’s ability to survive and their quality of life.
  • Changes in environments can be natural or influenced by humans. Some changes are good, some are bad, and some are neither good nor bad. Pollution is a change in the environment that can influence the health, survival, or activities of organisms, including humans.
  • Some environmental changes occur slowly, and others occur rapidly. Students should understand the different consequences of changing environments in small increments over long periods as compared with changing environments in large increments over short periods.

Developing Student Understanding
Students in elementary school should have a variety of experiences that provide initial understandings for various science-related personal and societal challenges. Central ideas related to health, populations, resources, and environments provide the foundations for students’ eventual understandings and actions as citizens. Although the emphasis in grades K-4 should be on initial understandings, students can engage in some personal actions in local challenges related to science and technology.

As students expand their conceptual horizons across grades K-12, they will eventually develop a view that is not centered exclusively on humans and begin to recognize that individual actions accumulate into societal actions. Eventually, students must recognize that society cannot afford to deal only with symptoms: The causes of the problems must be the focus of personal and societal actions.

Grades 5-8 Life Science Content Standard C

As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of


  • Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus. A behavioral response requires coordination and communication at many levels, including cells, organ systems, and whole organisms. Behavioral response is a set of actions determined in part by heredity and in part from experience.
  • An organism’s behavior evolves through adaptation to its environment. How a species moves, obtains food, reproduces, and responds to danger are based in the species’ evolutionary history.


  • A population consists of all individuals of a species that occur together at a given place and time. All populations living together and the physical factors with which they interact compose an ecosystem.
  • For ecosystems, the major source of energy is sunlight. Energy entering ecosystems as sunlight is transferred by producers into chemical energy through photosynthesis. That energy then passes from organism to organism in food webs.


  • Extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and the adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient to allow its survival. Fossils indicate that many organisms that lived long ago are extinct. Extinction of species is common; most of the species that have lived on the earth no longer exist.

Developing Student Understanding

In the middle-school years, students should progress from studying life science from the point of view of individual organisms to recognizing patterns in ecosystems and developing understandings about the cellular dimensions of living systems. For example, students should broaden their understanding from the way one species lives in its environment to populations and communities of species and the ways they interact with each other and with their environment.

Students understand ecosystems and the interactions between organisms and environments well enough by this stage to introduce ideas about nutrition and energy flow, although some students might be confused by charts and flow diagrams. If asked about common ecological concepts, such as community and competition between organisms, teachers are likely to hear responses based on everyday experiences rather than scientific explanations. Teachers should use the students’ understanding as a basis to develop the scientific understanding.

Understanding adaptation can be particularly troublesome at this level. Many students think adaptation means that individuals change in major ways in response to environmental changes (that is, if the environment changes, individual organisms deliberately adapt).

Grades 5-8 Earth and Space Science Content Standard D

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of


  • Global patterns of atmospheric movement influence local weather. Oceans have a major effect on climate, because water in the oceans holds a large amount of heat.

Developing Student Understanding

A major goal of science in the middle grades is for students to develop an understanding of earth and the solar system as a set of closely coupled systems. The idea of systems provides a framework in which students can investigate the four major interacting components of the earth system—geosphere (crust, mantle, and core), hydrosphere (water), atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (the realm of all living things). In this holistic approach to studying the planet, physical, chemical, and biological processes act within and among the four components on a wide range of time scales to change continuously earth’s crust, oceans, atmosphere, and living organisms. Students can investigate the water and rock cycles as introductory examples of geophysical and geochemical cycles. Their study of earth’s history provides some evidence about co-evolution of the planet’s main features—the distribution of land and sea, features of the crust, the composition of the atmosphere, global climate, and populations of living organisms in the biosphere.

Grades 5-8 Physical Science Content Standard B

As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop an understanding of


  • A substance has characteristic properties, such as density, a boiling point, and solubility, all of which are independent of the amount of the sample. A mixture of substances often can be separated into the original substances using one or more of the characteristic properties.
  • Substances react chemically in characteristic ways with other substances to form new substances (compounds) with different characteristic properties. In chemical reactions, the total mass is conserved. Substances often are placed in categories or groups if they react in similar ways; metals are an example of such a group.
  • Chemical elements do not break down during normal laboratory reactions involving such treatments as heating, exposure to electric current, or reaction with acids. There are more than 100 known elements that combine in a multitude of ways to produce compounds, which account for the living and nonliving substances that we encounter.

Developing Student Understanding
In grades 5–8, the focus on student understanding shifts from properties of objects and materials to the characteristic properties of the substances from which the materials are made. In the K-4 years, students learned that objects and materials can be sorted and ordered in terms of their properties. During that process, they learned that some properties, such as size, weight, and shape, can be assigned only to the object while other properties, such as color, texture, and hardness, describe the materials from which objects are made. In grades 5-8, students observe and measure characteristic properties, such as boiling points, melting points, solubility, and simple chemical changes of pure substances and use those properties to distinguish and separate one substance from another.

Students usually bring some vocabulary and primitive notions of atomicity to the science class but often lack understanding of the evidence and the logical arguments that support the particulate model of matter. Their early ideas are that the particles have the same properties as the parent material; that is, they are a tiny piece of the substance. It can be tempting to introduce atoms and molecules or improve students’ understanding of them so that particles can be used as an explanation for the properties of elements and compounds. However, use of such terminology is premature for these students and can distract from the understanding that can be gained from focusing on the observation and description of macroscopic features of substances and of physical and chemical reactions. At this level, elements and compounds can be defined operationally from their chemical characteristics, but few students can comprehend the idea of atomic and molecular particles.

Grades 5-8 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard F

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of


  • Risk analysis considers the type of hazard and estimates the number of people that might be exposed and the number likely to suffer consequences. The results are used to determine the options for reducing or eliminating risks.
  • Students should understand the risks associated with natural hazards (fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions), with chemical hazards (pollutants in air, water, soil, and food), with biological hazards (pollen, viruses, bacterial, and parasites), social hazards (occupational safety and transportation), and with personal hazards (smoking, dieting, and drinking).
  • Individuals can use a systematic approach to thinking critically about risks and benefits. Examples include applying probability estimates to risks and comparing them to estimated personal and social benefits.
  • Important personal and social decisions are made based on perceptions of benefits and risks.

Developing Student Understanding
By grades 5-8, students begin to develop a more conceptual understanding of ecological crises. For example, they begin to realize the cumulative ecological effects of pollution. By this age, students can study environmental issues of a large and abstract nature, for example, acid rain or global ozone depletion. However, teachers should challenge several important misconceptions, such as anything natural is not a pollutant, oceans are limitless resources, and humans are indestructible as a species.

Little research is available on students’ perceptions of risk and benefit in the context of science and technology. Students sometimes view social harm from technological failure as unacceptable. On the other hand, some believe if the risk is personal and voluntary, then it is part of life and should not be the concern of others (or society). Helping students develop an understanding of risks and benefits in the areas of health, natural hazards – and science and technology in general – presents a challenge to middle-school teachers.

Middle-school students are generally aware of science-technology-society issues from the media, but their awareness is fraught with misunderstandings. Teachers should begin developing student understanding with concrete and personal examples that avoid an exclusive focus on problems.

Note: Read the entire National Science Education Standards online for free or register to download the free PDF. The content standards are found in Chapter 6.

Kimberly Lightle wrote this article. She received her PhD in science education at The Ohio State University and is principal investigator of Beyond Weather and the Water Cycle, Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, and the Middle School Portal 2 projects. Email Kim at

Copyright February 2012 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1034922. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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