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How Do Greenhouse Gases Actually Work?

Kurz Gesagt (illustrator), MinuteEarth

This animated video explains how the molecular structure of atmospheric gases can absorb and re-radiate infrared energy. The video uses simple models and analogies to aid in student understanding.

Video length: 3:08

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Video supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 1 Cross Cutting Concept, 1 Science and Engineering Practice
High School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 1 Science and Engineering Practice

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

  • The video moves along quickly and includes terminology with which students may not be familiar; educators may want to show it multiple times and/or pause the video to explore topics in more depth.
  • Have some physical models of molecules on hand to show students if possible.

About the Science

  • A concise explanation of how the molecular structure of gases in our atmosphere determines their ability to absorb and re-radiate infrared energy.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    - Excellent, clear and concise description of molecular absorption of infrared radiation
    - Difference between the moons's lunar extreme temperatures and earth's more temperate climate
    - Introduction of molecular rotation and vibration
    - Difference between oxygen and nitrogen and greenhouse gases
    - radiation pinball is a GREAT metaphor for the greenhouse effect!
    - I did have to watch twice because there is a lot of information presented rather quickly

About the Pedagogy

  • Uses attractive cartoon graphics, and easy to understand models, to describe molecular motion and the absorption of infrared.
  • Covers a single topic (molecular motion) and does not go into the fact that CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere leading to an increase of global temperature.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Educators may want to download the video for stand-alone, offline viewing or use an add-on such as 'Download Helper' to get rid of ads and comments underneath the video.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Video 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-PS4.B1:When light shines on an object, it is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the object, depending on the object’s material and the frequency (color) of the light.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 1

Cause and effect

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

Science and Engineering Practices: 1

Developing and Using Models

MS-P2.5:Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

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.

Science and Engineering Practices: 1

Developing and Using Models

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.

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