Earth’s Atmosphere: Hands-on Science Activities for Upper Elementary Students
Teaching elementary students about Earth’s atmosphere is a great way to show them how complex and dynamic our planet really is. With the right hands-on activities for the Earth’s Spheres and Systems, teachers can help students understand what a crucial role our atmosphere plays in sustaining life on Earth.
There are countless ways to capture your student’s imagination when teaching about the basics of Earth’s Atmosphere – from investigating air pressure to exploring conditions affecting cloud formation. Start off with some knowledge-building experiments that use everyday materials and lead to more immersive learning objectives like creating a mini-ecosystem! No matter which activity you choose, your students will be engaged as they learn more about one of the most fascinating topics in science!
What is the Earth’s Atmosphere?
The atmosphere is the air sphere that envelopes our planet. The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of different gases that help keep us safe. These gases include oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. All of these gases are important for life on Earth as they help protect us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and keep our planet warm. The Earth’s atmosphere also helps to circulate air around the world so that we can breathe. Without the atmosphere, life on Earth would not be possible!
The Earth’s atmosphere has a series of layers, each with its own attributes. The four main layers are the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, and thermosphere.
- Troposphere: This is the lowest layer and the layer in which we live.
- Stratosphere: This is the next layer and it’s the layer where passenger airplanes fly.
- Mesosphere: In this layer, the air is too thin to breathe.
- Thermosphere: This layer absorbs radiation from the sun and touches outer space. Many satellites orbit the Earth in this layer.
Video about the Layers in the Earth’s Atmosphere
In this educational video about the atmosphere, students can learn about the outermost layer of the Earth. Students will learn what the atmosphere is made up of and why it is essential for life on our planet. This video is a great introduction or engagement activity to any of the activities below.
Earth’s Atmosphere Interaction with Other Spheres
Through the following-hands on activities, students will gain insights into the air pressure, weather patterns, and the factors influencing our climate. Activities such as investigating air quality and making models of the layers of the atmosphere provide an environmentally friendly approach to learning about the atmosphere’s effects on other spheres. These activities were chosen for upper-elementary students in mind.
Air Quality Investigation
Teach students about air pollution and its impact on the environment and human health. Instead of conducting experiments that contribute to air pollution, focus on raising awareness and understanding.
Air Quality Index (AQI) Data Collection
Have students research the Air Quality Index (AQI) in their local area by using online resources or local environmental agencies. They can collect daily or weekly data on the AQI and record it in a table or chart. Extend the task and have students look at data in several different cities across the country and across seasons to see trends in air quality.
Engage students in a discussion about the factors that contribute to poor air quality, such as vehicle emissions, industrial pollution, or burning fossil fuels. Encourage them to brainstorm ideas on how individuals and communities can help improve air quality. For instance, communities can contribute to clean air, such as walking or biking to school, reducing energy consumption, using public transportation, or planting trees.
By focusing on understanding air quality issues and promoting environmentally friendly behaviors, this activity helps students develop a sense of responsibility and empowers them to take action for cleaner air in their community.
Pollution Reading Passage & Comprehension Activities
This pollution reading passage and comprehension activities will help your learners understand three different types of pollution. Included is air pollution. The focus of the included comprehension activities is cause and effect and the main idea and details.
Third Grade Science Stations about the Earth’s Atmosphere
We have several third-grade science station activities that focus exclusively on the atmosphere, including meteorological tools, weather maps, and clouds. These science stations include a reading passage, a science activity, a worksheet to record the activity, and follow-up differentiated comprehension questions.
Earth’s Atmosphere Layering Activity
This easy and fun atmosphere science activity for kids is a great way for students to learn about the five layers of the earth’s atmosphere. It uses liquids to teach about layering and is a clear, visual representation of what happens in the sky above us. Click here to access the post.
More Hands-on Activities about the Atmosphere Layer
You can find additional ideas for teaching about the Earth’s atmosphere on the Teaching Expertise website. The activities are categorized by the different layers of the atmosphere, allowing for a more detailed exploration of each layer’s characteristics.
This website from University Corporation for Atmospheric Research Center for Science Education has 16 more activities about the layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. The directions for each activity include the learning objective, materials, and student-friendly directions, but pictures are not available. Each activity is correlated with the NGSS.
The Forces of Change website has 8 activities designed for middle school students that include accommodations for younger learners and could be modified for 5th grade. The PDF activities include some background knowledge and activity directions. Elementary students will need support with the directions.
A Complete Unit of 5th Grade Science Activities about Earth’s Spheres and Systems
We have a set of science centers that focus on the Earth’s Spheres’ interactions with each other and ecosystems. These Earth’s Spheres and Systems Next Generation Science Stations include eight different science stations in which students deepen their understanding of the Earth’s Spheres, the five layers of the atmosphere, the kingdoms in the biosphere, and the systems in the geosphere. The focus is on 5-ESS2-1.
Key Concepts of the Earth’s Spheres and Systems Science Stations
- General overview of the four spheres on Earth and how they affect each other
- How the spheres interact and create landforms in the geosphere and how that affects coastal erosion and deposition
- How the hydrosphere interacts with eight major ecosystems (changes in ecosystems)
- How the geosphere affects the hydrosphere
- Five layers of the atmosphere
- Kingdoms in the biosphere
For more information about the 5th grade Earth’s Spheres and Systems Science Stations, see this blog post. It goes into detail about each of the stations.
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