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Cool Cores Capture Climate Change

Jean Pennycook, Earth Exploration Toolbook/TERC

This Earth Exploration Toolbook chapter is a detailed computer-based exploration in which students learn how various climatic conditions impact the formations of sediment layers on the ocean floor. They analyze sediment core data from the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica for evidence of climate changes over time. In addition, they interact with various tools and animations throughout the activity, in particular the Paleontological Stratigraphic Interval Construction and Analysis Tool (PSICAT) that is used to construct a climate change model of a sediment core from core images.

Activity takes five 45-minute periods. Computer access required.

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:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
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

  • Pair ELL students with non-ELL students at the computers if possible. Teachers should download the PSICAT programs to computers ahead of time.
  • Spend some extra time guiding students through the PSICAT program.
  • Reinforce that the oldest sediments are at the bottom of the core and the youngest sediments are at the top of the core; this is particularly important when students build their own core to illustrate a warm climate and open water in the Ross Sea followed by a period of cooling, the advance of an ice sheet, and finally a period of warming with a retreat of the ice sheet.
  • Refer through the activity back to the guiding questions at the end of the case study Climate is indicated by the type of sediment found in the cores.
  • To shorten this activity, students can do parts of the step-by-steps such as viewing the cards with images of the core
  • If time for the complete activity is not available, having students interact with the interactive animation in Step 4, showing an ice shelf advancing and retreating, is recommended http://andrill.org/system/files/web/images/edu/iceshelfadvanceretreat.swf
  • A related core investigation activity which is not computer-based and is less involved is http://www.andrill.org/flexhibit/flexhibit/materials/activities/Activity5A-ChartingTemperatureChanges.pdf

About the Content

  • A detailed and challenging series of activities that engage students in the science of analyzing ice cores to study paleoclimate using the types of tools used by scientists to analyze data.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Very good material. Puts actual research tools to use. I like the interpretive steps in the activities.

About the Pedagogy

  • The lesson is scaffolded so that students learn about ocean sediment cores, which they then apply to actual data sets. The multiple extensions and links to other explorations and visuals meets the needs of an academically diverse classes.
  • Very complete treatment of this subject with background, case study, step-by-step instructions, information about the data and tools, and extensions to take the exercise further.
  • Best practice use of applied technology and models to study past climates.
  • The "Going Further" section provides a number of suggestions for inquiry-based learning. The step-by-step is guided inquiry.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The PSICAT download program may be a technical concern for teachers. Pre-loading this software and testing the tool before class is highly recommended, and this may be an issue for some schools.
  • Pop up windows in the PSICAT software aid help learners understand and follow the directions to use technology in the activity.
  • Interactive animation is a Shockwave file that might need a plug-in for some computers
  • There is a tutorial movie for the PSICAT application in the Going Further section.
  • If images look fuzzy on the page, click on them to enlarge.
Entered the Collection: August 2012 Last Reviewed: May 2016

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