Unit Overview

In Mosa Mack’s Oceans and Climate unit, students are led through a progression of three inquiry lessons that focus on the effects of changes in latitude, temperature, wind, the Coriolis effect, and density on regional climate.

Lesson Overview

Medium solveLesson 1: The Solve
Medium makeLesson 2: The Make
Medium engineerLesson 3: The Engineer

Students work together to complete an Oceans and Climate Vocabulary Mind Map before helping Mosa Mack solve the mystery of the missing gnome lost at sea. By the end of The Solve, students discover that earth’s rotation, wind, land, and density impact ocean currents. (75 mins)

Students determine whether it’s possible for two cities at the same latitude to have different climates. Over the course of multiple days, students will investigate the impact that latitude, ocean currents, heat, and geography have on a region’s climate. They will use evidence from their investigations to support their findings. (six 40-minute class periods)

Students develop and design a device capable of harnessing energy from the ocean. (250 mins)

Next Generations Science Standards

Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how patterns vary by latitude, altitude, and geographic land distribution. Emphasis of atmospheric circulation is on the sunlight driven latitudinal banding, the Coriolis effect, and resulting prevailing winds; emphasis of ocean circulation is on the transfer of heat by the global ocean convection cycle, which is constrained by the Coriolis effect and the outlines of continents. Examples of models can be diagrams, maps and globes, or digital representations.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the dynamics of the Coriolis effect.]

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Developing and Using Models
  • Engaging in Arguments From Evidence
  • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information (Oral Presentation)

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Developing Possible Solutions
  • The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes
  • Weather and Climate

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World
  • Systems and System Models

Inquiry Scale

  • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
  • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
  • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.

Common Misconceptions

  • Students may think that oceans have no effect on a region’s climate. Emphasize that many factors affect the temperature and movement of the oceans, which ultimately impact climate around the world.
  • Learners initially think that the oceans move but do not realize what drives their motion. There are four main factors that affect the movement of the ocean: latitude, wind, the Coriolis effect, and density. Emphasize to students that it is a combination and the influence of all of these factors that drive ocean currents thus determining a regions climate.
  • Relatedly, students initially think that ocean currents may all be the same or that the ocean flows in one direction. Emphasize that the oceans of the world vary in direction of currents as well as type of currents formed due to the main factors that influence them.
  • Students may think that Earth’s oceans are separate and not connected. Students will learn that Earth’s oceans are all connected and part of one global ocean system.
  • Students may initially think that oceans have the same salinity everywhere. Emphasize to students that salinity can vary by location or season. In the Arctic and Southern Oceans, the formation of sea ice results in a layer of highly saline water.
  • Students may initially think that icebergs are made of saltwater. Emphasize to students that most icebergs are made from calving glaciers (breaking of ice chunks from edge of a glacier). They are actually made of freshwater.


    • Climate
    • Latitude
    • Coriolis Effect
    • Density
    • Ocean Currents
    • Salinity

Content Expert Title

  • Joanna Pelc
    NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Global Modeling and Assimilation Office Expertise: Earth Science, Applied Mathematics


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Vocabulary Cards
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Vocabulary Mind Map