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Introduction to Earth's Climate

Kings Centre for Visualization in Science

This is the first of nine lessons in the Visualizing and Understanding the Science of Climate Change website. This lesson is an introduction to Earth's climate and covers key principles regarding Earth's unique climate, atmosphere, and regional and temporal climate differences.

Activity takes about 1-2 class periods or can be done as a homework assignment.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 10 Cross Cutting Concepts, 6 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 10 Cross Cutting Concepts, 5 Science and Engineering Practices

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

  • Some students may have difficulty understanding the interactive applets without educator support.
  • Educator may want to make sure students know how to convert temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit (if necessary), because all temperatures in the lesson are in Celsius.

About the Science

  • Website and lessons were developed by a collaboration of international chemistry and educational organizations under the UN International Year of Chemistry resolution 2011.
  • This lesson sets the groundwork for remaining lessons.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The atmosphere animation is great and interactive. Text is generally written in a clear, concise fashion. The historical temperature map animation is great, although the text can be hard to read. Additional graphics would be useful in the earlier "Key Ideas". Plain text becomes bland and ineffective quickly.

About the Pedagogy

  • Lesson includes key ideas, applets, keyword definitions hot-linked in the text, and an end-of-lesson quiz, which provides good questions that require critical thinking.
  • Lesson provides enough scientific information to explain weather and climate phenomena.
  • Lesson doesn't include a teacher's guide or answer keys.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Students can click through the lesson completely on their own, although applets would benefit from discussion with other students and educator.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

MS-ESS2.D1:Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns.

MS-ESS2.D2:Because these patterns are so complex, weather can only be predicted probabilistically.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 10

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function, Stability and Change, Patterns, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C1.1:Macroscopic patterns are related to the nature of microscopic and atomic-level structure.

MS-C1.2: Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural and human designed systems

MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

MS-C3.1:Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.

MS-C3.5:Phenomena that can be observed at one scale may not be observable at another scale.

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C5.3:Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion).

MS-C6.1:Complex and microscopic structures and systems can be visualized, modeled, and used to describe how their function depends on the shapes, composition, and relationships among its parts; therefore, complex natural and designed structures/systems can be analyzed to determine how they function.

MS-C6.2:Structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used.

MS-C7.1: Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and forces at different scales, including the atomic scale.

Science and Engineering Practices: 6

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

MS-P1.1:Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

MS-P2.1:Evaluate limitations of a model for a proposed object or tool.

MS-P2.4:Develop and/or revise a model to show the relationships among variables, including those that are not observable but predict observable phenomena.

MS-P4.2:Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

MS-P6.2:Construct an explanation using models or representations.

MS-P8.1:Critically read scientific texts adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas and/or obtain scientific and/or technical information to describe patterns in and/or evidence about the natural and designed world(s).

High School

Performance Expectations: 1

HS-ESS2-4: Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

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.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 10

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

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

HS-C2.4:Changes in systems may have various causes that may not have equal effects.

HS-C3.3:Patterns observable at one scale may not be observable or exist at other scales.

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.

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

HS-C5.3:Energy cannot be created or destroyed—only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems.

HS-C6.2:The functions and properties of natural and designed objects and systems can be inferred from their overall structure, the way their components are shaped and used, and the molecular substructures of its various materials.

HS-C7.1:Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable.

Science and Engineering Practices: 5

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.1:Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

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

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

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.

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