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Envisioning Climate Change Using a Global Climate Model

Betsy Youngman, and team of scientists and educators, Earth Exploration Toolbook Chapter from TERC

This long classroom activity introduces students to a climate modeling software. Students visualize how temperature and snow coverage might change over the next 100 years. They run a 'climate simulation' to establish a baseline for comparison, do a 'experimental' simulation and compare the results. Students will then choose a region of their own interest to explore and compare the results with those documented in the IPCC impact reports. Students will gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the process and power of climate modeling.

Activity takes a solid week to complete in a class (4-5) 50-minute periods. Computer access is necessary.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 7 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Equilibrium and feedback loops in climate system
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2f
Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5c

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:F) Working with models and simulations
Other materials addressing:
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
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

  • Each one of the six sections should have some kind of assessment or wrap-up discussion, a place for students to reflect and analyze findings before they go on to the next section.
  • Educator should encourage students to step back regularly to understand what was done in each step.
  • The EdGCM preview video might not be engaging for students.
  • Wrap-up suggestion: Limitations of models, what have we figured out about models, learning about models.

About the Science

  • Activity allows students to really use modeling software and produce an interpretable result. Modeling and how scientists do science is clearly represented. Students who can maneuver the lessons will gain an understanding of climate science concepts.
  • Very well referenced, with plentiful links to data sources and background references.
  • Students must have a good understanding of climate, the cryosphere, and technology.
  • Does not provide enough explanation about the IPCC scenario that produces this CO2 increase, and not enough information is provided on how the model arrives at its conclusions. It’s somewhat of a “black box.”
  • Activity doesn't address climate change; it gets more into the understanding of feedbacks.
  • Activity takes good advantage of using the modeling software EdGCM.
  • Comment from scientist: Reference is made to “snow and ice coverage.” Clarify if you refer to sea ice, land ice, or both in your lesson.
  • Instead of directing the students to the IPCC report, it might better to direct them to the Summary for Policymakers report since that is a less technical, shorter, and easier to digest document http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-spm.pdf.

About the Pedagogy

  • Well organized and rich resource, albeit complex, which requires a lot of preparation work for the educator.
  • Great material if the educator wants to engage students in climate modeling.
  • A lot of preparation is needed before educator can use the tool. This is not a "Click and go” lesson. There are costs associated with this lesson, and participation in available professional development programs is strongly recommended. Quite a commitment for a teacher but might be well worth the effort.
  • Very challenging material will be difficult for students lacking a good understanding of technology, second language learners, and teachers that lack tech support.
  • Assumes student ability to follow directions explicitly – could be a barrier to some students who may lose interest in the many detailed steps.
  • There is a risk that this activity could be a cookie-cutter exercise unless the educator really encourages thoughtful reflection and discussion.
  • Prerequisite understanding of climate system science is not highlighted enough as well as the ability to understand the modeling procedure and outcomes.
  • This activity does not promote any understanding of the factors that cause climate change; additional instruction would be necessary to address those ideas.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Very clear, extremely detailed, and visually-cued directions.
  • Requires a lot of tech support for teachers and students alike.
  • Software installation is required and might be a barrier in many school districts.
  • Data files are very large.
  • Only available at cost after a test period.
  • Some of the extensions are Mac-only.
  • Some links to external resources are no longer functional, but links to key resources work.

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

America's Choice video in Teaching Tips now at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxaWVlzgkX4
"State of the Cryosphere" at http://nsidc.org/cryosphere/sotc/

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 1

HS-ESS3-5: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

HS-ESS2.D1:The foundation for Earth’s global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy’s re-radiation into space.

HS-ESS2.D4:Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere.

HS-ESS3.D:Global Climate Change

Cross Cutting Concepts: 7

Patterns, Cause and effect, Systems and System Models

HS-C1.1:Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena

HS-C1.5:Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

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

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C4.2:When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models.

HS-C4.3:Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

HS-C4.4:Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

Science and Engineering Practices: 7

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.2:ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.

HS-P1.4:ask questions to clarify and refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem

HS-P2.3:Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system

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

HS-P8.1:Critically read scientific literature adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas or conclusions and/or to obtain scientific and/or technical information to summarize complex evidence, concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

HS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).

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