Topic: Weather and Climate I: Basic Elements

Below is a list of key ideas related to Weather and Climate I: Basic Elements. For each key idea, you will find a list of sub-ideas, a list of items, results from our field testing, and a list of student misconceptions. After clicking on a tab, click on it again to close the tab.

Processes that take place on the surface of the earth influence the composition and the temperature of the atmosphere.

Students are expected to know that:

  1. The gases that make up the air around us (i.e., the atmosphere) are mostly a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen. A very small percentage of the atmosphere consists of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other gases.
  2. The air also contains small solid and liquid particles.
  3. Processes that take place on the surface of the earth (e.g., evaporation, photosynthesis, respiration by living organisms, weathering of rocks, burning of fuels) add and remove gasses and particles from the air.
  4. Air can maintain its properties such as temperature and humidity as it moves, but the temperature and the humidity of air are affected by the surface that the air is moving over, such that the surface of the earth can cause the temperature and the humidity of air to gradually increase or decrease.
  5. Air can become warmer by moving over any place on the surface of the earth that is warmer than the air, and air can become cooler by moving over any place on the surface of the earth that is cooler than the air.
  6. The humidity of air (amount of water vapor in the air) can increase when air is above any place on the surface of the earth where there is abundant liquid water.

Boundaries:

  1. For this idea, students will not be assessed on their knowledge of any gasses or types of particles that are not specifically noted.
  2. Students are not expected to know how much of each gas is in the atmosphere.
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

Select This Item for My Item Bank

WC007001

The humidity of air can increase and it can decrease.

73%

70%

WC005002

The direction and speed of air can be measured.

61%

69%

WC020002

Humidity is a measure of the amount of water vapor in air.

54%

60%

WC016002

The humidity of air can increase and it can decrease.

55%

51%

WC098001

The amount of water vapor in the air above a lake can increase when the temperature of the air above the lake increases.

50%

54%

WC006001

The amount of water vapor in the air can increase and it can decrease.

50%

50%

WC003002

Air temperature and humidity can be different in different places.

50%

46%

WC099002

Both water that is colder and water that is warmer than the air above can affect the temperature of the air above.

43%

51%

WC017002

The amount of water vapor in the air and the temperature of the air are affected by bodies of water beneath the air.

42%

49%

WC012002

The temperature of land can affect the temperature of the air above the land if the land is warmer than the air and if it is colder than the air.

38%

45%

WC021004

The temperature of water can affect the temperature of air above the water even if the water is only a little bit warmer than the air.

35%

49%

WC009002

The temperature of cool air can increase if it moves over warm land or over warm water.

39%

42%

WC019002

The temperature of air can increase by moving over land that is warmer than the air.

37%

44%

WC010002

The temperature of cool air will increase as it moves over a warm place, whether that place is a city or a field.

36%

40%

WC011003

The temperature of air at a certain location can change whenever the temperature of the earth's surface below the air at that location changes.

28%

30%

Frequency of selecting a misconception

Misconception
ID Number

Student Misconception

Grades
6–8

Grades
9–12

WCM079

The humidity of air is the same everywhere on earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

36%

39%

WCM078

The temperature of air is the same everywhere on earth (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

35%

39%

WCM005

Humidity is a measure of the temperature of air (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

37%

32%

WCM006

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

35%

31%

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).

28%

22%

WCM007

Air temperature is affected by the surface the air moves over only if the surface is man-made (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

25%

23%

WCM009

The surface below a body of air could affect the temperature of the air only if that surface is extremely hot or extremely cold relative to the temperature of the air. For example, a volcano could warm the air but a surface that is only a little bit warmer than the air could not (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

23%

24%

WCM073

The direction air is moving cannot be measured (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

25%

19%

WCM076

The speed of moving air cannot be measured (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

24%

19%

WCM080

The temperature of air above the earth is affected by the temperature of the surface of the earth if it is warmer than the air, but not if it is colder than the air (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

21%

19%

WCM081

The temperature of air above the earth is affected by the temperature of the surface of the earth if it is colder than the air, but not if it is warmer than the air (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

16%

16%

WCM082

The humidity of air (amount of water vapor in the air) is not affected by the surface of the earth beneath it (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

15%

13%

WCM077

The amount of water vapor in the air cannot change (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

14%

15%

WCM008

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

12%

11%

WCM072

The humidity of air cannot change (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

10%

10%

WCM083

The temperature of the air cannot change (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

4%

3%

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.

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

Select This Item for My Item Bank

WC024002

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

74%

80%

WC022001

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

71%

74%

WC036002

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

71%

72%

WC023002

Energy from the sun warms the land and the water.

71%

71%

WC094001

Air temperature decreases with increasing distance above sea level.

58%

59%

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.

53%

59%

WC105001

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

52%

56%

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.

52%

53%

WC039002

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

50%

54%

WC093002

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

48%

53%

WC094002

Air temperature decreases with increasing distance above sea level.

50%

49%

WC041003

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

50%

47%

WC117001

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

44%

48%

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.

44%

47%

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.

41%

50%

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.

43%

46%

WC095002

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

40%

46%

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.

39%

44%

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.

41%

41%

WC030002

Sunlight warms the land and the land warms the air.

36%

46%

WC029003

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

38%

44%

WC040003

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

40%

37%

WC029004

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

33%

43%

WC027004

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

33%

33%

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.

29%

28%

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.

22%

24%

Frequency of selecting a misconception

Misconception
ID Number

Student Misconception

Grades
6–8

Grades
9–12

WCM099

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

62%

56%

WCM006

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

64%

54%

WCM100

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

61%

52%

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.).

37%

36%

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.).

33%

31%

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.).

32%

31%

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.).

31%

31%

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.).

29%

32%

WCM053

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

30%

31%

WCM094

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

26%

29%

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.).

26%

29%

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.).

27%

24%

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.).

25%

22%

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.).

22%

25%

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.).

25%

19%

WCM017

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

22%

23%

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.).

22%

22%

WCM101

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

19%

18%

WCM114

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

19%

17%

WCM012

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

17%

16%

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.).

18%

14%

WCM098

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

17%

15%

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).

17%

15%

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.).

16%

16%

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.).

16%

14%

WCM115

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

14%

13%

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.).

14%

13%

WCM097

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

15%

11%

WCM011

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

11%

17%

WCM085

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

14%

12%

WCM013

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

14%

10%

WCM008

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

11%

14%

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.).

9%

8%

WCM090

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

8%

9%

WCM084

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

8%

8%

WCM086

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

7%

7%

WCM087

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

3%

3%

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.

The amount of water vapor in the air at any place depends on the amount of liquid water available on the surface of the earth at that place, the temperature of the air, and where the air moved from.

Students are expected to know that:

  1. When liquid water at the surface of the earth (e.g., from rivers, streams, lakes, oceans, or living things) evaporates, the molecules of water become part of the air as water vapor.
  2. At any temperature there is a maximum number of molecules of water vapor that can be in a given quantity of air. As long as liquid water is available, the humidity of air can increase until it reaches this maximum.
  3. The maximum amount of water vapor that can be in air increases as the temperature of the air increases, so warm air can have more water vapor in it than cooler air.
  4. Because air can move water vapor from one location to another, areas that are not adjacent to a source of water can still experience humid air at times, but all other factors being equal, air in contact with or near bodies of water usually has more water vapor in it than air that is above dry land or is farther from a large body of water.

Boundaries:

  1. Students are not expected to know what relative humidity is or the difference between relative and absolute humidity.
  2. Students are not expected to know the term “dew point."
Frequency of selecting a misconception

Misconception
ID Number

Student Misconception

Grades
6–8

Grades
9–12

WCM105

Water evaporates into the air only when the air is very warm (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

48%

47%

WCM107

The humidity of air will increase whenever the air is in contact with water regardless of how humid the air already is (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

43%

49%

WCM103

When water evaporates, tiny droplets of water, not water vapor, are formed (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

38%

34%

WCM110

The only way that the humidity of air can increase is if the amount of liquid water in contact with the air increases and the temperature of the air increases (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

32%

35%

WCM109

The only way that the humidity of air can increase is if the amount of liquid water in contact with the air increases (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

31%

32%

WCM035

Humidity does not depend on the temperature of the air. Warm air can hold the same amount of water vapor as cold air (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

21%

21%

WCM102

Cooler air can hold more water vapor than warmer air (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

22%

17%

WCM104

Humid air cannot move from one location to another to cause the humidity of the second location to increase (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

20%

16%

WCM106

Water evaporates into the air only when the air is very cool (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

17%

17%

WCM108

The only way that the humidity of air can increase is if the temperature of the air increases (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

16%

11%

WCM033

Liquid water does not evaporate and become part of the air (AAAS Project 2061, n.d.).

8%

7%

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.

Clouds and rain form as air cools and water vapor in the air condenses into water droplets.

Students are expected to know that:

  1. Air cools as it rises away from the surface of the earth. Air can rise when 1) its temperature increases, 2) it is pushed upward as it moves over landforms (e.g., mountainsides), or 3) when it is pushed upward as the air encounters cooler (i.e., denser) air that wedges underneath the warmer air.
  2. Clouds (including fog) can form anywhere that air cools. The lowering of air temperature can cause water vapor to condense such that the molecules of water that are part of the air form extremely tiny droplets of liquid water (or ice) in the air. The droplets that make up the clouds are not heavy enough to fall to the ground as precipitation.
  3. As more droplets form in a cloud they collect together to form larger and heavier droplets. The droplets can eventually become heavy enough to fall toward the ground as rain, snow, sleet, or hail. The form of precipitation depends on the temperature of the air around the droplet.
  4. The more water vapor there is in the air, the greater number of water droplets will form as the water condenses, making it more likely that visible clouds will form and that droplets will collect together and become heavy enough to fall as rain.
  5. The cooler the air becomes, the more water will condense and form water droplets, making it more likely that clouds will form and that droplets will collect together and become heavy enough to fall as rain.

Boundaries:

  1. Students are not expected to know the names and characteristics of specific types of clouds other than fog (e.g., they are not expected to know that some clouds are made of ice instead of water) or the conditions under which different types of clouds will form.
  2. Students are not expected to know the term “dew point.”
  3. Students are not expected to know that water droplets form around tiny solid particles of matter in the air or that droplets are more likely to form when there are more particles in the air.
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

Select This Item for My Item Bank

WC089002

Clouds can form anywhere, even far from bodies of water, because air with water in it can move into an area and form clouds.

57%

58%

WC076002

Molecules of water can be found in clouds and in air far away from clouds.

52%

60%

WC079002

Clouds are made up of tiny water droplets that form as water vapor in the air condenses.

54%

54%

WC083002

It will not rain if the tiny water droplets that make up clouds are not heavy enough to fall from the clouds.

48%

53%

WC081002

As cool air moves toward warmer air, the cool air can push the warmer air upward, which causes the warmer air to cool, condense, and form clouds.

41%

51%

WC091002

Clouds are likely to form as air moves up over a mountain because air cools as it rises and clouds are likely to form as air cools.

40%

50%

WC085002

Rain falls when tiny water droplets in clouds combine to form larger droplets.

41%

44%

WC080003

Rain forms as the air in a cloud cools, causing tiny water droplets to form and combine to form larger droplets.

35%

42%

WC084002

Rain falls from clouds when air cools, causing water droplets to form.

31%

49%

WC089001

Clouds form anywhere there is moist air that cools to form tiny water droplets.

40%

32%

WC082003

If two places have the same amount of water vapor in the air, rain is more likely to fall in the place where the air is cooler.

24%

30%