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California Climate and the Atmosphere

Laura Wharton, Annette Brickley, Challenger Center for Space Science Education

In this 3-part lesson, students explore California climate and factors that are leading to changes within this climate system. Students begin by exploring California's climate and the state's topography. Next, they investigate coastal versus inland climate. Finally, they use My NASA Data to explore the effects of El Niño/La Niña on two locations found at the same latitude.

Activity takes two to three 50-minute class periods.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Definition of climate and climatic regions
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Climate change vs. climate variability and patterns
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Changes in climate is normal but varies over times/ space
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Climate models are robust enough to be used for guiding decision and actions as response to climate change
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Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

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.
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.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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The earth has a variety of climates, defined by average temperature, precipitation, humidity, air pressure, and wind, over time in a particular place.
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The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming.
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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

  • Educators should spend time familiarizing themselves with the three lesson parts well before they decide to use this in class. Parts one and two could be done in middle school but Part three is more difficult. Will take more than two class periods.
  • Educators should be confident in understanding content on La Niño and La Niña and what the ENSO is, prior to starting. While the lesson is well organized, some assumptions are made that teachers understand these concepts.
  • Educators can flip flop sections as they see fit.

About the Science

  • Since California's climate is driven by a series of complex systems that produce various microclimates across the state, the lesson serves as a learning tool to understand climate systems around the world. In this activity, students begin by reading an article then analyzing weather data and building a quick model. The concepts of El Niño and La Niña are presented as variables impacting the weather system. Students are asked to compare these two variables along with satellite data.
  • Comments from expert scientist: California has diverse climate across the state due to its geographical pattern. By identifying different climate regions, the students will gain knowledge on the weather/climate pattern of each region and how these climate regions are formed. This proposed lesson brings up an very interesting topic in earth science for students from 8th to9th grade. Important concepts in climate science is covered, such as, climate change and El Niño Southern Oscillation. Students are directed to real-time data provided by NASA to analyze course related sbjects.

About the Pedagogy

  • Well-organized and attractive worksheet for students. The different parts of the activity are well-integrated. Using two different data sets for students to record and analyze is a strength. A rubric is provided.
  • Lesson addresses content systematically, though level of complexity are more suitable for for high school science classes.
  • Students should have prior knowledge of El Niño and La Niña, and understand how to read and interpret satellite data and anomalies on graphs.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Excellent background materials for teachers. A good series of additional references and resources are provided.
  • A big file to download

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


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