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Interactive Geologic Timeline Activity

Environmental Literacy and Inquiry Working Group at Lehigh University

In this learning activity, students use a web-based geologic timeline to examine temperature, CO2 concentration, and ice cover data to investigate how climate has changed during the last 715 million years.

Activity takes one to two lesson periods (possibly homework assignment).

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Changes in climate is normal but varies over times/ space
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4d
Evidence is that human impacts are playing an increasing role in climate change
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4f

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
Other materials addressing:
7.3 Environmental quality.
The effects of changes in Earth's energy system are often not immediately apparent.
Other materials addressing:
2.7 Effects of changes in Earth's energy system .
Humans live within Earth's ecosystems.
Other materials addressing:
3.6 Humans live within Earth's ecosystems..

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
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

  • Review timeline with students prior to starting lesson.
  • When downloading geological timeline, make students aware of the slider bar on the bottom of the timeline to extend the eras and time periods. It is difficult to see the slider in certain browsers.

About the Science

  • The CO2 record shows that Earth's climate and carbon cycle are closely intertwined over the last half billion years and high CO2 levels have been responsible for warmer climates.
  • Use in conjunction with the following video: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/ancient_earth/Snowball_Earth
  • Comments from expert scientist: Gets students actually playing with data (CO2, temperature through time). The graph paper provided for the exercise is skewed (the coordinate system is off, stretched at the most recent time interval). Also, the graphics are very 1990s.

About the Pedagogy

  • Activity includes student and teacher materials in pdf format as well as background readings and assessments.
  • Lesson, as with others in this series, is well-organized and supports navigating around the timeline, but doesn't support understanding the timeline.
  • Activity might be difficult to use for a non-expert teacher because it lacks a clear interpretation of the sequence of the geological past and interpretation of how the CO2 concentration impacts the climate of the past.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Educator needs to register (no cost) to gain access to teacher materials and assessments.
  • No preconceptions or misconceptions are listed in this activity - so educators might preview the lesson in the teachers' guide prior to implementing to assure appropriateness for their students.
  • All necessary materials are technically correct but additional materials are necessary to make this activity engaging and effective for non-expert teacher use.

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