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Probabilities, Uncertainties and Units Used to Quantify Climate Change

Wendy Van Norden, University of Wisconsin - Global and Regional Climate Change

In this exercise learners use statistics (T-test using Excel) to analyze an authentic dataset from Lake Mendota in Madison, WI that spans the last 150 years to explore ice on/ice off dates. In addition, students are asked to investigate the IPCC Likelihood Scale and apply it to their statistical results.

Activity takes one to two 45-minute class periods.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy

This Activity builds on the following concepts of Climate Literacy.

Click a topic below for supporting information, teaching ideas, and sample activities.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:D) Evaluating accuracy and reliability
Other materials addressing:
D) Evaluating accuracy and reliability.
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

  • Group students so that each group has one person with good Excel knowledge and one person with good math skills.
  • Recommend this activity for AP classes only or undergraduate level.
  • The lack of teaching guide should not be an issue for advanced high school or undergraduate instructors because the activity is well laid out.

About the Science

  • This activity explores the language used to quantify the uncertainty in the interpretation of data results provided within IPCC reports.
  • This resource is one of many within the CIMSS curricula from the University of Wisconsin where additional background resources are provided.
  • Solid dataset and good activity that will help students to understand statistics in an easy-to-grasp way.
  • Comment from expert scientist: Gets the student to think about quantitative and qualitative statements, and how they relate (and specifically, how the IPCC relate them). Explanation of t-test is good (not too complicated).

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity leads the students through a guided-inquiry process to an understanding of the use of a statistical tool (T-test) for comparing change in ice on/ice off data over time.
  • Introduction to statistical terms such as probability, variance, uncertainty, standard deviation, mean and especially the T-test would be valuable to include and review prior to initiating this activity.
  • Putting the T-test into a contextual framework for greater understanding of its use to determine probability of a significant change over discreet time periods would greatly benefit the student.
  • Providing a website overview of Excel to be included as a reference can be found at: http://www.shodor.org/scsi/handouts/excel.html
  • Explicitly pointing out annual variability versus long-term trends is recommended to help students understand both.
  • Well-explained statistics and good step-by-step explanation for the Excel part of the activity.
  • The use of T-test statistics is beyond the ability of most high school students, but since the activity walks students through using the tool effectively, for the right group of learners, this activity could work well.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • No log-in is required: Skip login and sign in as guest.
  • Well-designed activity.
  • Students need a working knowledge of Excel spreadsheets and computer access to do the activity.
  • Some students might feel overwhelmed by the statistics, but the explanations are very well written so that they can follow the steps and fully understand the result they are getting.

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

Entered the Collection: June 2012 Last Reviewed: May 2016

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