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What is a Model?

Little Shop of Physics, Colorado State University

In this interactive activity students will create a very simple climate model. They use worksheets, chips/tokens, and follow rules for heat exchange. The activity only models temperature but there are instructions for adaptations of the model, such as rule changes for an atmosphere with increased levels of CO2.

This learning activity takes one 45 minute class period.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

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

  • Teachers may want to try the activity on their own to get a sense of how the model works before using it with students.
  • Depending on baseline knowledge, there may need to be some scaffolding or modification done for middle school audiences.

About the Content

  • Students are building a basic climate model for two different atmospheric conditions (one is regular and the other is increase carbon dioxide). Climate models start with basic physical theories: How air moves, how water behaves, how radiation transports energy. They then break the earth's atmosphere down into pieces—cells—and then compute what happens in each cell based on these physical theories.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths: Engaging active learning opportunity for the underlying concepts and functions of climate modeling.
    Suggestions: Add evidence or supporting information for the physical basis of the model, heat exchange ratios, provide outcomes or teacher notes. Provide initital conditions for temperature and tokens; describe "intitial/revised" = "contemporary / increased CO2".

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity allows students to learn about climate models. The activity is interactive and engaging for students. It is a simple and interesting way for students to model climate.
  • This resource includes additional questions to ask/explore that can increase the complexity based on grade level.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Although it seems like it could be complicated, this is a fairly straightforward activity if students can follow the rules of the model.

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

The science education group at NCAR developed complimentary resources for this activity. Going through the simulation with students can take time so they produced a time lapse of the simulations that can be shown to students after a few rounds are played, as well as other resources to help implement the activity. These can be found here: https://scied.ucar.edu/activity/atmosphere-layers-greenhouse-effect-model-activity
Entered the Collection: January 2022 Last Reviewed: June 2019

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