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Hands-on Greenhouse Gas Molecule Models

Climate Science Demonstrations

This short Youtube video shows a visual model of greenhouse gases using tennis balls, explaining why carbon dioxide absorbs more heat energy than oxygen or nitrogen.

Video length is 3:40 mins

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 will need to frame the use of this resource within their own lessons on how greenhouse gases work.
  • Instructors may consider creating their own tennis ball models for use in the classroom to amplify the video's lesson.
  • Students should have background knowledge about molecules and light wavelengths.

About the Science

  • Narrator shows through these demonstrations that some molecules vibrate more than others.
  • Oxygen and Nitrogen are rigid molecules while carbon dioxide molecules are less rigid which allows them to trap heat (greenhouse gas) or absorb more energy.
  • Students also learn about different wavelengths of energy.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This resource accurately reflects the molecules' movements and behaviors with each other and explains that vibrating CO2 molecules can trap radiated heat and absorb wavelengths, trapping heat radiated by the earth. This resource should not be used as a stand alone resource. A discussion about shortwave vs. longwave radiation should also be included, as well as more details on resonance.

About the Pedagogy

  • No lesson guide or structure is included. Teachers will need to incorporate this resource into their own related lessons on greenhouse gases and Earth's energy balance.
  • Teacher could also provide materials to allow students to perform their own demonstrations - same as in video.
  • Note that the video uses the term "model," but when using NGSS thinking and strategies, "model" refers to a dynamic thing such as a computer model or a hand-drawn model that shows energy inputs of a system, for example. Using tennis balls to demonstrate molecules is showing a representation more than a model. However, the dynamic quality of the ball and stick models do demonstrate energy transfer.

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