Case Study: The Coriolis Effect

Miss Sherwood wanted to review the Coriolis effect with her 9th grade earth science class and a lower level earth science class and show how the ocean and air masses move on the planet. She had already taught the Coriolis effect during meteorology, but wanted to add how it affected the surface ocean currents.

Using the online resources under The Ocean's Role in Weather and Climate," she found an activity called “Twisting the Air Away.” This activity was designed to be short (30 minutes) and demonstrate the Coriolis effect. Miss Sherwood created a worksheet based on the activity and started off with a simple question. If you got on a plane in New York City and wanted to fly to Miami, Fl., could you fly in a straight line to get there? Why or why not? This started discussions and divided the class in the lower level earth science class, while most of the upper level earth science class remembered that the Earth is rotating.

Miss Sherwood has very little wall space in her room, so she modified the activity since she has lots of table space. Instead of using paper, she used dry-erase boards which allowed students to erase mistakes and do the activity a couple of times. The lower level earth science students had quite a few problems, most of which were behavior and lack of interest. Many of them had trouble visualizing their line as the map was turned, much less writing their prediction down on paper.  The activity itself was fairly easy since they could erase and do it over if they didn’t do it correctly the first time.

The online resources also had some excellent Web sites that further explained the material for both teachers and students. The Coriolis Effect – Animations Web site through University of South Florida had a nice animation called “The Coriolis Effect Defined” as well as one called “Putting It All Together.”  “Getting Around the Coriolis Effect” was more for the instructor than for the students because it was a little more in depth than students needed. The “Bad Coriolis – Bad Meteorology” site had some interesting information for both teachers and students involving the misconceptions of toilets flowing in different directions.

As a follow up, Miss Sherwood used a writable globe and once again asked if students could fly from New York City to Miami, Fl. in a straight line. In order to demonstrate it, she had one student try to draw a line while another student turned the planet.  This three-dimensional demonstration definitely put the final touches on the activity.

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