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California and the Biosphere

Annette Brickley, Challenger Center for Space Science Education

In this activity, students investigate aspects of change in the biosphere of California's Central Valley. Analyzing data over both space and time, they begin to tie together some of the causes and effects of a variable and changing climate. The valley serves as a model environment that includes riverine, wetland, rural-agricultural, and urban regimes all with high water-dependencies and susceptibility to drought.

Three 50-minute class periods.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate impacts ecosystems and past species extinctions
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Definition of climate and climatic regions
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Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models
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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

  • Educator should stress the role of the Central Valley in providing the nation's food and what a drought means to the entire US (introduces systems component of the role of California in the US food production).
  • Start lesson with a video or a graphic (e.g. which foods in local supermarket come from CA) about importance of California food production.
  • Concept map: starts students thinking and brainstorming about the different spheres and elements that affect the spheres – approach might be too simplistic and could be easily expanded by showing a concept map and then letting students draw their own without a template
  • Consider doing parts 2 and 3 before part 1–the reading exercise.

About the Science

  • Students connect the causes and effects of varying water supply on the health of the biosphere, including plants, animals, and humans; analyze and interpret graphs to assess changes in the biosphere, specifically vegetation; and analyze and interpret precipitation records to assess the effect on the biosphere, specifically vegetation.
  • Drought is linked to climate, though not explicitly to climate change, but can easily be explored as an extension to the activity.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The activity is highly interactive - it links to highly credible sources which focus on facts, and lets the students and teacher discuss the interpretation.

About the Pedagogy

  • Well-organized student worksheet and teacher materials.
  • The lesson address 3 Essential Questions: 1) How are the plants, animals, and people in the Central Valley of California dependent on the available water supply? 2)How was the vegetation of California affected between the years 2005 and 2009? What region was affected most severely? 3) How do the records of precipitation in the Central Valley relate to the changes in vegetation observed?
  • Concept map is a good assessment strategy to understand student misconceptions.
  • Concept maps might be difficult for middle school students.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Students will need help navigating both the NEO and My NASA data websites.
  • Some screenshots to accompany the directions would be helpful.
  • Educator should have some ideas for helping students with concept mapping, either on paper or using a computer-based concept mapping tool (ie. Cmaps); have a familiarity with NEO and MND tools; and have a familiarity with graphing and fitting a trend line in Excel.

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


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