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Heating it Up: The Chemistry of the Greenhouse Effect

ExplainingClimateChange.com, King's Centre for Visualization in Science

This lesson explores the chemistry of some of the greenhouse gases that affect Earth's climate. Third in a series of 9 lessons from an online module entitled 'Visualizing and Understanding the Science of Climate Change'.

Instructional sequence will take at least 2 hours to complete.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 8 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 8 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 7 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 9 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

  • Since the activity is well built and easy to follow, students could complete the activity/material as homework, and classroom time could be used to discuss the visualizations and material.
  • Lesson is all-inclusive and packaged well.
  • All 9 lessons in this module are included in the CLEAN collection.

About the Science

  • The activity provides excellent explanations and visualizations to learn about the chemistry of greenhouse gases and climate change.
  • No supporting material is provided, but the scientific scope of the activity is well outlined in the activity.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    This resource explains the basic physical science behind climate change. It does so using clear, concise language with good, intuitive examples. Click-through definitions are provided for all jargon and problems are well-conceived and force the reader to pause and think about what they have just learned. It uses up-to-date information and delves into complex concepts such as IR absorption. Overall, I think it is a well-written and constructed resource.

    The information presented is very basic, similar to a school textbook, but there are no links or references provided anywhere in the material. While this may be appropriate as a primary government resource, I think the material would be more credible if it linked to other appropriate primary resources.

    For example, in Lesson 3, Key Idea 6, the site presents the statement: “Some greenhouse gases have increased in the last two hundred years due to human activities.” This would be a perfect spot to link to the IPCC report, a NASA or NOAA web site, or other primary resource that provides evidence for this statement. Not only would this be good scientific practice to cite primary data, but also provide the reader with a link to more detailed and expansive set of information.

About the Pedagogy

  • The activity provides opportunities for inquiry and experimentation for students while using visualization applets, which provide an excellent tool for students to understand complicated subject matter.
  • Excellent pedagogical organization, beginning with the assessment of students' prior knowledge.
  • Students progress through five key ideas.
  • Vocabulary terms are clickable and defined on the spot.
  • Each key concept provides ample contextual clues, and a review is provided that evaluates students' knowledge via summative assessment questions.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The activity is set up very well to guide students through the material.
  • It is technically very easy to use, with good explanations on how to use the applets.
  • Very comprehensive content built directly into the interface of this activity.

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

Full module at http://www.explainingclimatechange.ca/Climate%20Change/Lessons/lessons.html.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 8

MS-PS1.A3:Gases and liquids are made of molecules or inert atoms that are moving about relative to each other.

MS-PS1.A6:The changes of state that occur with variations in temperature or pressure can be described and predicted using these models of matter.

MS-PS1.B:Chemical Reactions

MS-PS3.A3:Temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of particles of matter. The relationship between the temperature and the total energy of a system depends on the types, states, and amounts of matter present.

MS-PS3.A5:The temperature of a system is proportional to the average internal kinetic energy and potential energy per atom or molecule (whichever is the appropriate building block for the system’s material). The details of that relationship depend on the type of atom or molecule and the interactions among the atoms in the material. Temperature is not a direct measure of a system's total thermal energy. The total thermal energy (sometimes called the total internal energy) of a system depends jointly on the temperature, the total number of atoms in the system, and the state of the material.

MS-PS3.B1:When the motion energy of an object changes, there is inevitably some other change in energy at the same time.

MS-PS3.B2:The amount of energy transfer needed to change the temperature of a matter sample by a given amount depends on the nature of the matter, the size of the sample, and the environment.

MS-PS4.B3:A wave model of light is useful for explaining brightness, color, and the frequency-dependent bending of light at a surface between media.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 7

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


MS-C2:Cause and effect

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-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: Energy and Matter

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-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: 8

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

MS-P2.6: Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms.

MS-P4.1:Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.

MS-P4.3: Distinguish between causal and correlational relationships in data.

MS-P4.4:Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena.

MS-P4.7:Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings.

MS-P4.8:Analyze data to define an optimal operational range for a proposed object, tool, process or system that best meets criteria for success.

MS-P6.1:Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict(s) and/or describe(s) phenomena.

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: 2

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.

HS-PS4-4: Evaluate the validity and reliability of claims in published materials of the effects that different frequencies of electromagnetic radiation have when absorbed by matter.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 7

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-PS1.B1:Chemical processes, their rates, and whether or not energy is stored or released can be understood in terms of the collisions of molecules and the rearrangements of atoms into new molecules, with consequent changes in the sum of all bond energies in the set of molecules that are matched by changes in kinetic energy.

HS-PS3.A3:These relationships are better understood at the microscopic scale, at which all of the different manifestations of energy can be modeled as a combination of energy associated with the motion of particles and energy associated with the configuration (relative position of the particles). In some cases the relative position energy can be thought of as stored in fields (which mediate interactions between particles). This last concept includes radiation, a phenomenon in which energy stored in fields moves across space.

HS-PS3.B1:Conservation of energy means that the total change of energy in any system is always equal to the total energy transferred into or out of the system.

HS-PS3.D1:Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms—for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment.

HS-PS4.B4:Atoms of each element emit and absorb characteristic frequencies of light. These characteristics allow identification of the presence of an element, even in microscopic quantities.

HS-PS4.B:Electromagnetic Radiation

Cross Cutting Concepts: 9

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

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

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-C3.2: Some systems can only be studied indirectly as they are too small, too large, too fast, or too slow to observe directly.

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

HS-C6:Structure and Function

Science and Engineering Practices: 5

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

HS-P2.6:Develop and/or use a model (including mathematical and computational) to generate data to support explanations, predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems.

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-P6.1:Make a quantitative and/or qualitative claim regarding the relationship between dependent and independent variables.

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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