Case Study: Earth's Energy Budget

Independent study biology students in Ocala, Florida used these online resources to learn about the flow of energy from the sun to the Earth and from the Earth to the atmosphere. They used the extensive information from these educational Web sites to research energy heat transfer; aborption, reflection, and refraction; and solar radiation. After researching the Web sites, students’ knowledge on the subject matter was assessed with worksheets and a quiz.

Ms. Kloepper first stressed to the students that the sun is the ultimate source of energy for our planet, as it provides energy necessary for the backbone of our food web. In addition to being ecologically important, the sun is also physically important to our planet, as it helps drive our weather patterns. Ms. Kloepper explained that as such, it is essential for students to understand how the energy from the sun reaches the Earth. 

Ms. Kloepper visited the tutorial and created a worksheet that allowed students to individually collect necessary background information on the ways energy from the sun reaches the Earth, the physical processes that cause light energy to penetrate the atmosphere, and what happens to the solar radiation when it reaches the atmosphere. The students independently spent between one and three hours completing the assignment (depending on ability). The topics they researched included:

  • Heat Transfer
  • Radiation
  • Conduction
  • Convection
  • Absorption
  • Reflection
  • Refraction
  • Solar Radiation

After students individually collected information from the Web site, they completed a worksheet assessing their knowledge of the material. Some questions were taken verbatim from the Web site, other questions encouraged more broader thinking about the topics.  

After the students submitted the worksheet, their knowledge on the material was reassessed with questions included on a test. Ms. Kloepper discussed the material with the students during their weekly meeting, and reinforced their understanding that the physical forces studied help drive the Coriolis effect.

Once the lesson was completed, it was evident that students had a firm understanding of how energy is transferred from the sun to the Earth. All students were able to fully explain the physical properties that cause light energy to enter our atmosphere and help drive our weather patterns. The online tutorial was instrumental in aiding students in their research, and provided a wealth of information on the Earth’s energy, surpassing the information included in our textbook
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