What is the Future of Earth’s Climate?

Contributor
This High-Adventure Science activity was developed under a series of grants from the National Science Foundation (DRL-0929774, DRL-1220756 ) in partnership with the University of California, Santa Cruz and National Geographic Society.
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Simulation , Numerical/Computer Model , Map , Model , Interactive Simulation , Graph , Informative Text , Answer Key
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

This computer-based learning module engages students in questions that scientists around the world are exploring about Earth’s climate. They gain an appreciation for how much is not known about the Earth and climate change. The module contains 5 activities; 1) Earth’s Changing Climates, 2) Interactions Within the Atmosphere, 3) Sources, Sinks, and Feedbacks, 4) Feedbacks of Ice and Clouds, and 5) Using Models to Make Predictions. Each activity provides information in simulations, text, video, or graphic format and the students enter answers to both open-ended and closed questions within the program. Once the students have completed an activity, they can print a report showing all the questions and their answers. The authors estimate the entire module should take 225 minutes. A teacher’s guide with answers to the questions and a PDF with instructions for using the portal with students can be found at http://resources.has.concord.org/resources/teacher%20guides/ClimateTG2014.pdf. In Activity 1, students look at climate trends over different time scales. They evaluate the information the data provides and consider the limitations of conclusions that can be drawn from the data. In Activity 2, students study how solar radiation interacts with components of Earth's surface and atmosphere, and learn how greenhouse gases warm Earth's atmosphere. In Activity 3, they explore the relationships between levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapor and ocean and surface temperature. In Activity 4, they discover how light-colored surfaces, such as snow, ice, and some clouds, have a cooling effect on Earth's temperature. In Activity 5, students explore how solar radiation, Earth's surface and oceans, and greenhouse gases interact to cause global warming. They change variables to determine how much greenhouse gas emissions might need to fall to mitigate the projected temperature increase.

Intended Audience

Learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS3-5 Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Clarification Statement: Examples of factors include human activities (such as fossil fuel combustion, cement production, and agricultural activity) and natural processes (such as changes in incoming solar radiation or volcanic activity). Examples of evidence can include tables, graphs, and maps of global and regional temperatures, atmospheric levels of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, and the rates of human activities. Emphasis is on the major role that human activities play in causing the rise in global temperatures.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This computer-based module gives students the opportunity to examine and clarify evidence about the recent rise in global temperatures and climate change throughout time. The activities support the Performance Expectation as students investigate factors including the amount of carbon dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere, the amount of ice cover, and varying ocean temperatures, as well as other factors that impact global temperature changes over thousands of years. Climate change over the past century is addressed in Activity 1, but the unit addresses a much longer time frame overall. The activities don’t require students to ask questions. The teacher would have to encourage students to generate their own questions as they work through the unit.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students use multiple models and simulations to construct explanations throughout the modules. For example, they are asked to explain why they drew trend lines in graphs as they did, they answer questions about relationships between factors, and they combine information from various climate models to develop a prediction about Earth’s climate in the future. The variables that are addressed are for the most part observable, but the interactions between them are complex and not always well understood.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students learn about the major factors that affect the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperatures and look at climate trends over time. They learn how greenhouse gases warm Earth's atmosphere; they explore the relationships between ocean surface temperature and levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapor; and hey discover how light-colored surfaces have a cooling effect on Earth's temperature. The role of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels isn’t specifically addressed. Data on the generation of greenhouse gases is available using a resource such as http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/co2.html . Additional information about options for reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability is needed before students can address the second part of the Disciplinary Core Idea. The EPA site already mentioned as well as http://climate.nasa.gov/effects/ can provide some information for students to use.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The module indirectly addresses the Crosscutting Concept of stability and change as the students examine Earth’s climate over time and predict future trends. Data from the Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index for the last 150 years and the Vostok ice core for the last 420,000 years are interpreted to investigate gradual changes over time. The teacher will need to point out that stability in Earth’s climate isn’t static, but in the past followed a pattern shown in the data from the ice cores and that pattern can be disturbed by the factors highlighted in the simulations. In a simulation of Earth systems and greenhouse gases (Unit 2, Activity 2), a volcanic eruption abruptly increases the level of carbon dioxide in the air. To specifically address the concepts of stability and change, the teacher would need to ask students questions about changes in Earth’s climate and the level of stability.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Cause and effect relationships are examined during the portions of the module that focuses on interactions in natural systems in Activity 4. Students examine the relationship between the amount of greenhouse gases and a) temperatures of the ocean and atmosphere and b) the amount of water vapor in the air. They investigate the relationships between Earth’s albedo, the amount of water vapor, and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the ocean. A designed climate system model is used in Activity 5 to demonstrate how changes in human-produced carbon dioxide emissions could affect future climate change.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Parts of the three dimensions highlighted above are integrated throughout the 5 activities in this unit. The activities fit together coherently around the Disciplinary Core Idea addressing the factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature. Students evaluate climate trends and investigate models of how solar radiation, Earth's surface and oceans, and greenhouse gases interact to cause global warming. The students use the Science and Engineering Practice of using a model to show the relationships among variables, although they do not develop their own model. The models are incorporated in simulations and graphs of data in which students manipulate variables and evaluate the response. The Crosscutting Concepts of cause and effect relationships are used to predict phenomena when the students predict future trends in a model based on previous climate records. Climate change is a focus of the simulations. The Crosscutting Concept of stability isn’t specifically addressed, but change is a focus of the unit. The three dimensions work together to support students as they evaluate the models provided and answer the questions in the activities.

  • Instructional Supports: The module engages students in meaningful scenarios that reflect the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experienced in the real world. Each activity builds on the previous one. The level of support for students remains similar throughout, although each activity involves the consideration of additional elements, increasing the level of complexity of student thinking as they progress through the unit. The scientific information appears to be accurate and grade-appropriate. Integration of the three dimensions are needed for students to answer many of the questions as they require using a model, examining cause and effect, and assessing the impact on climate change. It uses multiple representations to support students’ understanding. Students manipulate the simulations and then answers questions in written form which can be printed out. One of the strengths of the unit is that it asks students to assess their level of certainty with the answer they chose and then explain what influenced their certainty rating. The time needed to carry out the module is specified. A teacher’s guide with answers to the questions and a PDF with instructions for using the portal with students can be found at http://resources.has.concord.org/resources/teacher%20guides/ClimateTG2014.pdf. The module does not address differentiated instruction for students.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The module asks students to use evidence to demonstrate their understanding. Formative assessment is available throughout as students type out and print their answers to the questions provided. The teacher’s guide provides answers, including possible pieces of evidence that students might use when they assess their level of certainty in answering a question. No pre-assessment, summative assessment or rubrics are provided. Self-assessment is factored in throughout as students assess their level of certainty when answering questions requiring higher-order thinking.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The interactive component is purposeful and directly related to learning. It is well-designed and easy to use. It isn’t responsive to student input in a way that creates an individualized learning experience, but students can manipulate a specific variable and observe the impact on other factors. It was easy to navigate between the various components of the module. The teacher information wasn’t easy to find, but was located through an Internet search for “What’s the Future of Earth’s Climate” answers.