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Graphing the Extent of Sea Ice in the Arctic and Antarctic

Randy Russell, Windows to the Universe

In this activity, students learn about sea ice extent in both polar regions (Arctic and Antarctic). They start out by forming a hypothesis on the variability of sea ice, testing the hypothesis by graphing real data from a recent 3-year period to learn about seasonal variations and over a 25-year period to learn about longer-term trends, and finish with a discussion of their results and predictions.

Activity takes about 30-45 minutes.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 4 Cross Cutting Concepts, 4 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 4 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Global warming and especially arctic warming is recorded in natural geological and historic records
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4e
Effects of climate change on water cycle and freshwater availability
About Teaching Principle 7
Other materials addressing 7b

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Intro to activity: Ideally educator would start activity by introducing how lesson fits into climate science (albedo, ocean circulations, migration patterns).
  • Wrapping up the activity: "Why do we care about sea ice extent? How does this affect life on Earth?"
  • Information on sea ice and sea ice formation should be provided by the educator as well as information on what the role of sea ice is for global warming and the thermohaline circulation.
  • Educators might want to copy and paste data into Excel format to include a technology piece.
  • Up-to-date data and imagery is available from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) site and can augment this activity.

About the Science

  • Carefully designed activity that introduces students to the concept of seasonality of sea ice and its extent, both in terms of seasonal variations and longer term trends.
  • Quality of data is excellent (well-referenced, up-to-date).
  • Information on more current data is provided in activity.
  • Great practice - have the students make predictions on the graph before plotting the data. This will address the misconceptions that the maximum sea ice extent occurs during the coldest month (December) and the minimum sea ice extent occurs during the warmest month (June), which is not the case.
  • Lesson provides a "teachable moment" to address the misconception of similar seasons in the two hemispheres.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students are using the scientific process of forming a hypothesis, collecting data, and interpreting the results.
  • Forming a hypothesis, graphing data and discussing results will engage students with different learning styles.
  • Very thorough background materials and educator's notes provided.
  • Great extrapolation at the end of the activity of predicting sea ice extent into the future.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Clear, concise writing and well thought out and organized activity - ready to use.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

MS-ESS2.D1:Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 4

Energy and Matter, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect

MS-C5.2: Within a natural or designed system, the transfer of energy drives the motion and/or cycling of matter.

MS-C7.1: Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and forces at different scales, including the atomic scale.

MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

Science and Engineering Practices: 4

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

MS-P4.1:Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.

MS-P4.2:Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

MS-P4.4:Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena.

MS-P4.7:Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

HS-ESS2.E1:The many dynamic and delicate feedbacks between the biosphere and other Earth systems cause a continual co-evolution of Earth’s surface and the life that exists on it.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 7

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change

HS-C1.4: Mathematical representations are needed to identify some patterns.

HS-C2.1:Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects.

HS-C3.5:Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

HS-C7.1:Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable.

HS-C7.2:Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible.

HS-C7.3:Feedback (negative or positive) can stabilize or destabilize a system.

Science and Engineering Practices: 4

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

HS-P4.3:Consider limitations of data analysis (e.g., measurement error, sample selection) when analyzing and interpreting data

HS-P4.4:Compare and contrast various types of data sets (e.g., self-generated, archival) to examine consistency of measurements and observations.

HS-P4.5:Evaluate the impact of new data on a working explanation and/or model of a proposed process or system.

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