Illari et al. (2009)

The paper reports the findings of a study by six universities looking at ways to improve the teaching of atmospheric and oceanic dynamics so that university students could move between theory, models and observations. The research was carried out by university-based researchers in the USA.

Learners’ ideas

  • The Earth is closer to the Sun in summer than in winter.
  • The Sun burns more brightly in summer than in winter.
  • The Earth's spin axis is tilted toward the Sun in summer.

Evidence-based suggestions

  • Use a physical model (the "Weather in a Tank" model) to show heating in the atmosphere.
  • The model uses a bucket of ice placed in the centre of a rotating tank of water to induce a horizontal temperature gradient. Circulation patterns are shown using paper dots and dyes modelling atmospheric synoptic-scale weather systems. This is described in detail in the paper.

Study Structure


Assess the impact of a physical model in increasing students’ understanding of Meteorology, Oceanography, and Climate.

Evidence collection

Evidence was collected through qualitative discussions and quantitative testing using pre-existing assessment materials.

Details of the sample

The sample contained approximately 500 students, of which 55% were male, 37% were female and 8% were not reported.

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