Key Idea: The pattern of the rise and fall of air temperature over a day and over a year at any given place on the surface of the earth is mainly due to variations in the amount of sunlight that reaches that place.

Students are expected to know that:

  1. Sunlight directly warms the air, water, land, and other matter making up the surface of the earth (with nothing intervening).
  2. Although air is warmed to some extent directly by energy from the sun, it is warmed mostly by the transfer of energy from the earth’s surface, which also is warmed by the sun. The more energy that is transferred to the surface of the earth by sunlight, the more energy is transferred from the surface of the earth to the air, and the warmer the surface of the earth and the air become. The less energy that is transferred to the surface of the earth (e.g., when clouds block the sunlight), the less energy is transferred to the air, and the less the surface of the earth and the air above it are warmed.
  3. During any given day, from any place on earth’s surface, the sun appears to rise slowly upward above the horizon until the middle of the day (when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky during that day), and then appears to move downward toward the horizon. As the sun rises above the horizon and falls toward the horizon, it also moves horizontally to create an arc across the sky over the course of a day.
  4. As the sun’s position in the sky above any given place on the surface of the earth changes, the angle at which sunlight strikes that place changes (“place” should be taken to mean a defined area). As the sun moves higher above the horizon, the size of the angle at which the sunlight hits the place increases, up to a maximum of 90° in some places where the sun is directly overhead. As the sun moves closer to the horizon, the size of the angle at which the sunlight hits the place decreases.
  5. The angle at which sunlight strikes a place on the surface of the earth affects the amount of energy that is transferred from the sun to that place. The larger the angle becomes (i.e., the closer it is to 90°), the more energy is transferred to that place. The smaller the angle becomes, the less energy is transferred to that place.

Boundaries:

  1. For this idea, students are not expected to know what energy is other than to know that when energy is transferred to a material it can make the material warm, that sunlight can transfer energy from the sun to the earth and make it warm, and that the earth can transfer the energy to the air and make it warm. They are not expected to know anything about the nature of electromagnetic radiation, how energy is transferred, or how energy warms matter.
  2. For this idea, students are not expected to know that the amount of energy from the sun absorbed by the surface of the earth and transferred to the air above it depends on the nature of the material that is covering the surface of the earth at that place.
  3. For this idea, students are not expected to know how the composition of the air, including amount of trace gasses and particles (solid and liquid) suspended in the air affect air temperature.
Percent of students answering correctly (click on the item ID number to view the item and additional data)
Item ID
Number
Knowledge Being Assessed Grades
6–8
Grades
9–12
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WC024002

Energy from the sun increases the temperature of the land and the water.

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WC022001

Sunlight can increase the temperature of land and the temperature of water.

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WC036002

Sunlight transfers energy to the land, which warms the land.

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WC023002

Energy from the sun warms the land and the water.

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WC094001

Air temperature decreases with increasing distance above sea level.

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WC043002

The amount of energy that is transferred from the sun to a given place on the earth's surface changes depending on where the sun is in the sky.

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WC105001

Sunlight transfers different amounts of energy to a lake depending on the position of the sun in the sky.

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WC103001

When sunlight shines on an area of land, the sunlight transfers energy to the land it shines on, which causes the land to become warmer.

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WC039002

The angle at which sunlight hits any given place on the earth's surface changes continuously throughout the day.

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WC093002

A plant receives the most intense sunlight in the middle of the day when the sun is highest in the sky.

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WC094002

Air temperature decreases with increasing distance above sea level.

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WC041003

Sunlight can warm a lake by different amounts during a day depending on the position of the sun in the sky.

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WC117001

A plant receives the most energy from sunlight in the middle of the day when the sun is highest in the sky.

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WC033002

Sunlight feels warmer in the middle of the day than in the morning because the sun is higher in the sky in the middle of the day.

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WC037003

The temperature of a glass of water left outside in the sun increases more in the middle of the day than in the morning because the angle at which sunlight strikes the earth is different in the middle of the day than in the morning.

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WC035003

It is colder in the winter than in the summer because sunlight reaches the earth at a smaller angle in the winter and cannot transfer as much energy to places on the surface of the earth.

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WC095002

A sudden change in a town's air temperature can be caused by air moving to the town.

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WC107001

Both the blocking of sunlight by clouds and the height of the sun above the horizon affect the amount of energy transferred from the sun to a place on the earth's surface.

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WC034002

It is colder in the winter at a given place than in the summer because sunlight reaches that place at a smaller angle in the winter.

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WC030002

Sunlight warms the land and the land warms the air.

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WC029003

Sunlight transfers energy from the sun to the land, and the land transfers energy to the air.

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WC040003

Sunlight warms a lake more when the sun is higher in the sky than when it is lower in the sky.

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WC029004

Sunlight warms the land and the air, and the land warms the air.

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WC027004

Air is warmed by energy from the sun that first warms the surface of the earth and then is transferred to the air.

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WC026003

The sun warms the surface of the earth less in winter because the angle at which sunlight strikes the earth is smaller in the winter.

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WC035002

It is colder in the winter at a given place than in the summer because the sun is lower in the sky in the winter so the town recieves less energy from the sun.

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Frequency of selecting a misconception

Misconception
ID Number

Student Misconception

Grades
6–8
Grades
9–12

WCM115

Energy from the sun does not warm the land (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM114

Energy from the sun does not warm the water on the surface of the earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM101

The sun gives off less energy in the winter (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM100

The surface of the earth does not warm the air above it (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM099

The land does not transfer energy to the air (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM098

Sunlight does not transfer energy to the surface of the earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM097

Sunlight does not warm the surface of the earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM096

It is colder in the winter than in the summer at a given place because sunlight is cooled by cold air in the winter (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM095

The amount of energy sunlight can transfer to a given place on the surface of the earth is not affected by clouds blocking the sun (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM094

The sun is farther from the earth in winter and closer to the earth in summer (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM093

The sun itself is hotter in the middle of the day than it is in the morning or late afternoon (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM092

Sunlight feels warmer in the middle of the day than at other times of the day because the sunlight that reaches the earth does not have to travel as far in the middle of the day (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM091

The position of the sun in the sky is related to how close or far the sun is from the earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM090

Sunlight cannot transfer energy to the earth's surface (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM089

The angle at which sunlight hits any given place on the earth's surface does not change during the day (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM088

The angle at which sunlight hits any given place on the earth's surface changes more rapidly in the morning and afternoon, and less rapidly during the middle of the day (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM087

Sunlight cannot transfer energy from the sun to the land (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM086

Sunlight cannot transfer energy from the sun to bodies of water on the surface of the earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM085

Sunlight does not warm the water on the surface of the earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM084

Sunlight does not warm the land (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM070

Changes in the distance between the sun and the earth control the amount of energy transferred by sunlight to a place on the surface of the earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM068

The amount of energy sunlight transfers to a place on the surface of the earth increases during the whole day (until the sun goes below the horizon) (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM053

Air temperature does not depend on height above sea level (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM050

The position of the sun in the sky does not affect the amount of energy sunlight can transfer to a given place (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM048

Sunlight warms a place on the surface of the earth more when the sun is closer to the horizon (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM026

The air feels colder higher on a mountain than lower on the mountain because clouds are cold, and the closer the clouds are, the colder it feels (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM025

The air feels colder higher on a mountain than lower on the mountain because it is windier, not because the temperature is changing (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM018

The air around the earth is mainly warmed by energy transferred directly from sunlight, not by energy transferred from the surface of the earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM017

The air around the earth is mainly warmed by heat from deep inside the earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM016

The reason for the pattern of temperature changes over a day or over a year is because the amount of clouds blocking the sun is changing (Aron et al., 1994; Salierno et al., 2005).

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WCM015

The sun's changing temperature is the reason it is cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM014

The sun's changing temperature is the reason why sunlight feels cooler in the morning and evening than in the middle of the day (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM013

The amount of energy transferred by sunlight to a given place does not change during a year (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM012

The amount of energy transferred by sunlight to a given place does not change during a day (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM011

The air warms the surface of the earth; sunlight does not warm the surface of the earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM008

The temperature of air changes only when the composition of the air changes (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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WCM006

The temperature of air is not affected by the surface of the earth beneath it (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

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Frequency of selecting a misconception was calculated by dividing the total number of times a misconception was chosen by the number of times it could have been chosen, averaged over the number of students answering the questions within this particular idea.