Measuring Energy in the Atmosphere: Exploring Climate Change

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SWBAT report the causes and effects of climate change. Students explain the data pointing to human-caused climate change.

Big Idea

Tired of explaining climate change? Let the students discover for themselves the facts about climate change.


5 minutes

I begin with a Concept Map in an effort to help my students organize their ideas as they learn. Climate Change is written in the middle of the concept map and there are three adjoining circles, Effects, Causes, and Interesting Information. Students work for three-five minutes by themselves writing in what they know about climate change. I have had to use the term Global Warming to ignite ideas. 

This lesson focuses on how the Earth is effected by trapped greenhouse gasses. I want to assess student understanding of climate change but I also want to give them the opportunity to tell me what they find most interesting. I use a strategy called Student Led Learning. In my Classroom Video: Student Led Learning I explain the strategy. It is important to allow students the opportunity to express what they think is interesting. This strategy offers me the opportunity to start content specific conversations. I will say, "What about this fact made it interesting?" The student explains their answer. I am getting to know the student a little better. In addition, I am assessing understanding in a conversation based upon the student's interest. 

Grouping students is always stressful. In engineering lessons, groups of students must be able to work together successfully to solve design problems. To help build trust, I use a strategy called, "I'm glad I'm your partner," that is modeled in my  Classroom Video: I'm Glad I'm Your Partner. After groups are assigned, students say to one another, "I'm glad I'm your partner!" This simple expression of kindness spearheads the positive ways in which the group will respond to one another. 

After setting the stage for partners, groups of students work together. My intention is to assess prior knowledge and to give the students a chance to help one another remember informations. I direct students to add information to their concept map from others. 


15 minutes

My goal is to challenge student preconceptions. I ask the students, “How do you know that what you wrote on the concept map is true?” I explain that their task is to find out information about climate change to determine if what they think is true. Throughout the lesson, students will be changing information on their concept maps. 

Using information from the multimedia sources, students begin to populate their concept maps with new information. At the same time, they will change their background knowledge responses if the information was incorrect. I start with a Bill Nye movie. Students watch the movie and add information to the concept map. 

As the students begin to populate the Concept Map, I assess understanding. Oftentimes my ELL students will have difficulty understanding the difference between cause and effect. I use a strategy called Offering Answer Choices. In my Classroom Video: Offering Answer Choices, I am working with a student helping her to understand the difference between cause and effect. The video is interesting because I give her many different answer choices and she clearly does not understand. I help her remember other parts of the lesson in an effort to clear up misunderstanding. The hardest part about the interaction is the question, "When do you begin to modify?" I knew she would continue to grow in her understandings as the lesson progressed and I felt she understood what she needed to know to move on. 

One of the best things about this section is the integration of the Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. The integration is authentic as apposed to being gratuitous. Science teachers can easily assess writing and research skills as the students passionately write their ideas. In the concept maps students must "Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts."

They "Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics."

Finally students must "Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text."


60 minutes

The EPA has a great site about climate change. Instead of direct teaching, my strategy is to allow my students to discover information on their own. Students use the site called A Student Guide to Global Climate Change.

*Update: The White House administration is currently updating all climate change links on the EPA website. This site may say that it is "under construction". I have the former site archived and changed the link above. Honestly, it worked a few times and didn't a few more. I hope you can get to it. 

To help students determine unfamiliar vocabulary, I use a strategy of digging for unknown words called the Vocabulary Dig. You can learn about this strategy on my Classroom Video: Vocabulary Dig.

Students read over the material looking for words that, "Someone might not know."  By asking for words, "someone" might not know, they are helping out others as well as themselves. The students are looking for unfamiliar and somewhat unfamiliar vocabulary words.  In addition, they are becoming familiar with the site.  I walk to groups, listening for words many groups find unfamiliar.  At the same time, I scaffold learning. For example, there was a group having difficulty with the terms "cyclical patterns" and  "regional climate differences." I helped those two students understand the words. By helping individuals I can use the knowledgable students to help others. I listen to how they explain a term to their peers and assess individual understanding. 

Students read about climate change on an interactive web site. I allow them to surf the site so they can become familiar with it. My intention is to allow students the opportunity to explore links and watch the movies they feel are most important. My goal is to give the students the opportunity to investigate what they think is interesting.

I want to link scientific content to student interests. I support my students in working independently with an electronic direction sheet. Links, directions, and activities are embedded into the worksheet. They are looking to answer the question, “Who does the EPA feel is the cause of climate change?” When they respond, "Humans", I say, "Let's find out why."

I use a strategy called Using Conceptual Models to Promote Understanding. Students examine how the Earth is one system and changing one link in the system can cause changes to others. I present the information in different learning modalities. In the Explore section of this lesson, I explained how students watched a Bill Nye Movie. In this section, students will be reading and examining pictures related to climate change. Using a movie on the site, I ask students to draw the system of green house gases relating to climate change. Students can determine how to draw the model but I warn them that they will have to explain it to me. In my Classroom Video: Using Conceptual Models to Promote Understanding, I explain the strategy. In the movie below a student is explaining her understanding of climate change. 

Students populate their concept map with statistics and other information that can answer causes, effects, and interesting information. The purpose is to grow in the learning. As the students find out more information, they add information to the concept map. 

This sections offers the students the opportunity to use NGSS Science Practice #2: Developing and Using Models as they, "develop and/or revise a model to show the relationships among variables, including those that are not observable but predict observable phenomena. Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena."

Students explore two content standards associated with the human impacts on Earth Systems. Students initiate their understandings of how "Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things." 

In addition, by using the EPA website students explore how, "Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities."  


30 minutes

My strategy is to complete a Data Analysis. Students watch a silent movie in groups and report the data.  The video is from the Earth System Research Laboratory. It is a time-lapsed chart of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. It begins at the pre-industrial age and ends at January, 2012.

I give the students a Data Table and instruct them to record the Y-axis, Parts per Million. I explain that PPM stands for the parts of CO2 per million. Students record every 15 seconds. This can be tough because there are no tick marks between the numbers in sets of 10 over 330. I tell the students to look at half way and use a number either below half or above half. There is a timer on the video so stopping to get the number is easy.

I ask students to answer the following reflection questions. My strategy is to allow the students the opportunity to tell me what they learned.

  1. What surprised you about the data?
  2. What was most interesting?

I ask the following questions to clarify evidence of the factors that may have caused the rise in global temperatures and to predict how population increases may effect climate change.  

  1. There is a lot of controversy about climate change. Many people believe it is not human caused. Answer the following question in your engineering notebook:
  2. Write a one-sentence summary answering the question, How does the data describe the relationship between humans and climate change? Use Statistical Information.
  3. If the population of humans increasing over the years, what may happen to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? What can you do to help stop the rise in CO2?

An important part of my practice is offering immediate feedback to students. I use a strategy called Assess as You Go. In my Classroom Video: Assess as You Go, I explain the strategy. I use a stamp to assess as I go. I walk around the room, approaching different groups, assessing how well groups are working together and the pace of the activity. The stamp is used as students begin to answer questions. I ask to see their answers and offer stamps for correct answers. This is one of my favorite strategies because I can easily assess who is struggling with the material. I can scaffold content, re-phrase a question, or help students find correct answers. In addition, I am using the stamp as an formative assessment. When the time comes for a summative assessment, I have already looked over much of the work. This strategy saves me valuable time.  

Isn't this site amazing? The visual impact of the data paints a picture of the science. the integration of the science, reading and writing in this section is a great way to authentically help students understand how important it is to be able to write coherently and write well. At this point, my students begin to become really impassions and want to share their ideas in the reflection question. NGSS science content integration includes ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems. "Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise." Inherent in the learning is the Cross Cutting concept of cause and effect.  

While writing this I found several Science Practices hard at work. Students are "Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Developing and Using Models, and Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions." All these practices are easily assessed using Common Core reading standards.  Students begin to  "Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table)."

The reflection statements have been a joy to read because I'm reading what the students actually felt was most important to them. They did not ask me if an answer was correct or not, what mattered is how the question was answered. With the students with poorer writing skills I easily scaffolded their writing with suggestions to make it clearing using specific words. 





15 minutes

Students have answered questions, made drawings, and reflected in the engineering notebook. They have added information to a concept map. At this point in the lesson, we take a step back and discuss what was learned. Students share their Concept Maps at table groups. I give the students talking points to cover. The talking points include the following stems

  1. Listen to my similar idea.
  2. I thought that was surprising also.
  3. Are you sure that answer is correct? I remember....
  4. Great idea! I'd like to add that to my concept map. 
  5. Is that a cause or could it be an effect? 
  6. What was the most surprising statistic you wrote? 
  7. My results were different. I put that idea in ....
  8. I don't understand. Would you please explain? 
  9. I have a question.....
  10. I have a great connection.
  11. I wonder....

I listen to conversations and scaffold learning when there are misunderstandings. 

I evaluate the concept map by checking to make sure there are no misconceptions. I also assess the student answers in their Reflection. If there are misconceptions, I talk to the student about their mistakes.