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PhET - Glaciers Lesson

Ryan Tucek, PhET University of Colorado at Boulder

In this interactive simulation, students adjust mountain snowfall and temperature to see the glacier grow and shrink, and use scientific tools to measure thickness, velocity, and glacial budget.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate is determined by the long-term pattern of temperature and precipitation averages and extremes at a location. Climate descriptions can refer to areas that are local, regional, or global in extent. Climate can be described for different time intervals, such as decades, years, seasons, months, or specific dates of the year.
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Natural processes driving Earth’s long-term climate variability do not explain the rapid climate change observed in recent decades. The only explanation that is consistent with all available evidence is that human impacts are playing an increasing role in climate change. Future changes in climate may be rapid compared to historical changes.
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Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models that represent the climate system and make predictions about its future behavior. Results from these models lead to better understanding of the linkages between the atmosphere-ocean system and climate conditions and inspire more observations and experiments. Over time, this iterative process will result in more reliable projections of future climate conditions.
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Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations
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G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:B) Designing investigations
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B) Designing investigations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
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E) Organizing information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:F) Working with models and simulations
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F) Working with models and simulations.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
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A) Processes that shape the Earth.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:B) Changes in matter
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B) Changes in matter.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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Computer modeling explores the logical consequences of a set of instructions and a set of data. The instructions and data input of a computer model try to represent the real world so the computer can show what would actually happen. In this way, computers assist people in making decisions by simulating the consequences of different possible decisions.
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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

  • Teachers are strongly encouraged to go through the activity sheet and simulation prior to using with students so that they understand what the students will be asked to do.

About the Science

  • Students determine the factors that affect the motion and size of glaciers and calculate the speed of their movement.
  • Students learn about how a glacier grows and decays and the features a glacier creates.
  • This activity relies on the Glacier simulation that can be run online or downloaded: http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/glaciers
  • Comments from expert scientist: The Java glacier simulation program that goes with this activity is very nice, and is one of the best glacier simulations that I've seen. It allows control of many factors such as air temperature, snowfall, etc., and the measurement of many factors such as ice thickness, ice temperature and borehole deformation patterns

About the Pedagogy

  • Prior knowledge of the basics of glaciers is encouraged.
  • Through observations and collection of virtual data, students analyze data/visual evidence, draw conclusions, and make predictions.
  • The student activity protocol sheet is very valuable in structuring how effectively students use the tool.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The instructions on the student worksheet are clear and easy to follow.
  • On the PhET web site, there is the option to either "Run" or "Download" the simulation. It seems to be much more efficient to download.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

Glacier Simulation: http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/glaciers

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