Jump to this Activity »
Glacier (?) National Park

University of South Florida Judy Mcllrath, Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum/SERC

This activity engages learners in examining data pertaining to the disappearing glaciers in Glacier National Park. After calculating percentage change of the number of glaciers from 1850 (150) to 1968 (50) and 2009 (26), students move on to the main glacier-monitoring content of the module--area vs. time data for the Grinnell Glacier, one of 26 glaciers that remain in the park. Using a second-order polynomial (quadratic function) fitted to the data, they extrapolate to estimate when there will be no Grinnell Glacier remaining (illustrating the relevance of the question mark in the title of the module).

Activity takes at least two 45-minute classes. Computer with Excel software required.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

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

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Global warming and especially arctic warming is recorded in natural geological and historic records
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4e
Effects of climate change on water cycle and freshwater availability
About Teaching Principle 7
Other materials addressing 7b

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:D) Evaluating accuracy and reliability
Other materials addressing:
D) Evaluating accuracy and reliability.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
Other materials addressing:
E) Organizing information.
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.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
Other materials addressing:
A) Human/environment interactions.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:B) Places
Other materials addressing:
B) Places.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:E) Environmental Issues
Other materials addressing:
E) Environmental Issues.

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

  • While developed for undergraduate students, this activity would be great in an Algebra I math class in addition to a science class. Many students will need guidance through the graphing part of the activity.
  • It would be helpful to link to a geologic time table as well as descriptions of plant biome types for students to look at as they work their way through the first part of the activity.

About the Science

  • Students analyze data pertaining to the disappearing glaciers in Glacier National Park. They use glacier-monitoring data e.g. area vs. time data for the Grinnell Glacier, one of 26 glaciers that remain in the park.
  • Uses data from USGS and NPS.
  • Combines pictoral, map, and numerical data analysis.
  • This activity was written in 2010 and the glacier positions have changed since then. Refer to updated data linked below.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    - inter/extrapolation of data
    - definition of glaciers and how they are formed
    - understanding the repercussions of climate change
    - using the quadratic formula
    - entering formulas in excel and plotting
    - percentage use!
    - r^2-value use
    - Excellent Excel template - the data analyses comes off as a bit intimidating, but the template is a great transition for students to get engaged with Excel and data analyses/plotting

    - the "hottest years" since 1980 could be updated (slide 6)

About the Pedagogy

  • Although there is a lot of reading and math in the PowerPoint, the author provides supportive scaffolding throughout that illustrates how to perform the math and graphing functions and what some of the more complicated images represent.
  • Pre-requisite skills include some first-year algebra and working with Excel spreadsheets to graph data.
  • The teachers guide is only accessible by an e-mail request with verification.
  • The slide with the video of glacier retreat included in the PowerPoint is especially compelling.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

HS-ESS2.A1:Earth’s systems, being dynamic and interacting, cause feedback effects that can increase or decrease the original changes.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 7

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change

HS-C1.4:Mathematical representations are needed to identify some patterns

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

HS-C3.5:Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

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.

HS-C5.4: Energy drives the cycling of matter within and between systems.

HS-C7.2:Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible.

HS-C7.3:Feedback (negative or positive) can stabilize or destabilize a system.

Science and Engineering Practices: 7

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.3:ask questions to determine relationships, including quantitative relationships, between independent and dependent variables

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-P3.5:Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated.

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-P5.2:Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations.

HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

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).

Jump to this Activity »