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Back to the Future: Climate Edition

National Center for Science Education

This activity engages students through an exploration using real data of paleoclimate proxies, such as ice cores, tree rings, and sedimentary analysis that provide evidence for past climates.

This activity takes four to six 50 minute class periods.

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

  • Consider setting up a single computer with the video for "Station 3: A Year Without Summer" in part A. Alternatively, the stations can be completed as an entire class.
  • ImageJ software can be difficult to navigate at times. Consider having students work in groups to complete the tree-ring analysis activity.
  • Note that the pom-pom activity can be set up on the day of the class and requires no previous preparations beyond obtaining the activity materials.
  • Depending on the class and time available, it may be helpful for teachers to look through activities and choose a few rather than teach this entire unit. Different classes will need different levels of support when it comes to understanding the concepts and tools presented.
  • This lesson focuses on information (awareness) about climate change. Consider including follow-up lessons focused on hope, action, and possibilities for changing the future.

About the Content

  • This comprehensive and rigorous activity explains concepts related to ice-core analysis and supports an understanding of the scientific process.
  • Students will engage in group activities, collect/analyze/graph/interpret tree-ring data with ImageJ software, and analyze ice-cores with an in-class activity to learn and practice concepts related to paleoclimatology.
  • This lesson highlights common misconceptions throughout activities and provides key take-aways to help summarize complicated information related to isotope analysis.
  • This lesson provides a great overview of climate proxies, including tree rings, ice cores, and other tools. It provides excellent scientific information on these topics. However, because it includes so much information, the lesson is very dense. Multiple scientific tools and techniques are presented. Make sure to unpack and spend time with each concept so that students grasp the scientific underpinnings before moving on to the next tool/concept.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • This lesson is the third in a series of five modules about climate change from the National Center for Science Education.
  • Students will work on understanding climatic changes by using a variety of in-class activities, videos, worksheets, and software data analysis that appeal to a diversity of learning styles.
  • Students should have a preliminary knowledge of paleoclimatology basics and convection currents (refresher materials are also provided in the lesson).
  • The lesson includes an anchor activity and all subsequent modules directly support the teacher and student goals. This lesson is primarily hands-on and discussion based and does not provide a rubric.
  • This unit contains a lot of information. Though it is well explained and supported, teachers should spend time reviewing the activities and software (especially ImageJ) to make sure they are ready to teach the concepts and the students are ready to engage with all of the tools and ideas included.
  • There are many activities in this lesson that can serve as stand-alone lessons. The lesson set can be adapted for multiple levels and units of study.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • A teacher account is required to access all materials. Teacher accounts are free to create.
  • All lesson resources are available through GoogleDrive and embedded hyperlinks are placed within the lesson plan for easy access to related materials.
  • This lesson is technically robust. Ease of use will depend on classroom and learner level, but there are activities that will fit multiple learning levels and topics.
Entered the Collection: November 2023 Last Reviewed: November 2023

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