Tracking Trends: Using Fossils for Evidence of Climate Change (Day 2 of 2)

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Students will be able to use fossil data to track, compare, and discuss ancient climate change patterns.

Big Idea

Let your students explore ancient climate change using leaf fossil data to make connections between global temperature changes and carbon emissions.

Notes for the Teacher

During Day 1, students read and discussed ancient climate change information.  

Today, they will use leaf fossil data to make the connections to climate change over geologic time. 

The first time I did this lesson, I found myself really improvising about how to navigate the fossil leaf data sheet and conclusion questions using graphs provided by the Smithsonian.  This year's iteration was much smoother and productive and I've written about the questioning and guided analysis work I did with the students this year in the classroom flow sections below that you can have the kinds of in depth conversations we all want to foster in our classrooms.  The difference for me between last year's work and this year's improvement is that in the first go around, student groups worked on their own to puzzle out the tricky parts as I moved around the room for support.  Because I understood where the sticking points would be, this year I was able to ask for the entire group's attention at those spots and guide them through as a group.  This year I felt as if the class worked as a collaborative whole in a really supportive and productive way.  This lesson can help you and your students grow those whole-class discussion skills, I know it has done that for me.  I can't wait to hear your feedback and suggestions!

The Classroom Flow: Introduction

5 minutes

1. At the start of class, remind students that this is Day 2 of our prehistoric climate change lesson.

2. Ask them to take out the article and discussion prompts they worked with yesterday.  

3. To remind students of yesterday's work, ask the following (or any other related) prompt:  

  • What was one interesting thing you learned yesterday?  One challenge?

4. Popcorn out a few responses on either topic.

5.  Announce that today students will be working with fossil photographs and organizing them in relation to the information they learned yesterday about leaf structure and climate.  

6. Ask students to move to their lab group tables.

The Classroom Flow: Working with Leaf Data

35 minutes

1.  Give each lab group a copy of the lab directions and data collection sheet entitled "A Fossil Thermometer" and leaf photographs for Site A and Site B.  

2.  Announce that each group will work together to analyze and compare the leaves in relation to the information given about what leaves look like in different climate change conditions.  Remind student groups that they will be recording their data on their lab directions and data collection sheet.

4.  Tell students that once they have recorded their data, they can utilize their data to calculate the temperatures and confirm their findings on the graph slope line provided in their lab analysis handout.  

  • Note:  This is where your role as the classroom cheerleader really comes into play!  I listen in at each group and observe the work process so that I can interject within the small groups and with the larger group.  In general, I find that I simply need to encourage them to continue exploring and to trust their judgement and follow the written directions when it comes to their assessment of each leaf fossil as 'smooth' or not and their simple math calculations.

5.  Tell student groups to move on to their discussion about their data and climate change using their lab analysis handout #2.  Tell students to do their best to tackle this leap from data to theory and that we will reconvene as a group to review the connections and their summary statements together.  

6.  As a large group, lead a discussion centered on the two graphs shown on the last page of the lab analysis handout.  Specifically, you are looking to have them connect the information in both graphs together.  See my brief video for more tips and tricks to do this!  You can also check out some student work samples to see the general trend in my students' final data, simple mathematical calculations, and summary statements for the lab.  

  • Note:   The students and I had a great experience together discussing, dissecting, and comparing data in order to make the connection between leaf shapes and global temperatures in relation to the carbon load in the atmosphere.  Please see the teacher lab directions sheet  for additional support and assistance in guiding students through data collection and analysis.  I found it helpful last year in terms of boosting my confidence as I piloted the activity for the first time last Fall.

The Classroom Flow: Putting it All Together

15 minutes

1.  As a large group discussion prompt, briefly ask for initial impressions/thoughts about the research described in our readings and the groups'  experiences working with the leaf data using the popcorn protocol.  

  • Note: My goal here is simply to get the conversation started before moving into the more substantive, detailed conversations about their lab experience and the science of climate change.  Keep this as a short introductory activity so that the class has time to share out their findings and connect them to the bigger picture of climate change.  

2.  Each lab group presents their data, graph, and big picture take aways from their lab experience.  

  • Note:  Each group will get 1 minute for this quick whip around.  This brief activity allows students to compare/confirm their data and brings up questions/misconceptions we need to address as a large group.

3.  Together as a large group we address any global issues that came up through the lab group share outs as needed.  

  • Note:  In general, the groups will feel very confident in their ability to connect the lab activity to our topic of climate change.  There are many entry points throughout this two day lesson for clarification and redirection and your keen observations and strategic interventions pays off!