Feedback of Ice and Clouds

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SWBAT examine positive and negative feedback loops in the context of climate change with emphasis on the relationships between ice and temperature and clouds and temperature

Big Idea

How do ice melt and cloud cover correlate to changes in the Earth's temperature?

The Need for the Lesson

Students have many misconceptions about clouds. One idea is that clouds always produce a cooling effect. In this lesson students will see that clouds can have a cooling or a warming effect. This lesson explores how clouds impact our temperature is dependent upon position and makeup.

Another big misconception is that the Earth's surface does not transfer energy to the air. This lesson provides simulations that help students understand how changes in the ice cover can affect the Earth's temperature.

Investigation Preparation & Summary

5 minutes

In this lesson students will use simulations to examine how the Earth's surface and cloud cover affect the temperature of our planet.. (MS-ESS3-5 Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.)

The High-Adventure Science - Activity 4 - Feedbacks of Ice and Clouds presents to students a short written explanation along with asimulation for students to examine and analyze. Boxes are provided for students answers. As the facilitator of this activity, I can run a report at any time to view student responses for all students, one student, all questions or one question. 

As students examine visual evidence via simulations. Students can change variables and they are asked questions designed to mentor them as they reflect on what the visual images mean. (SP1 Asking Questions and Defining Problems)

Students will manipulate variables using models. (SP2 Developing and Using Models)

Students will be changing variables to use models to make sense of the behavior of systems. In this lesson they will investigate the impact of ice cover and clouds on Earth's temperature. (SP3 Planning and Carrying Out Investigations)

Students are actively engage in analyzing and interpreting data as each section of this lesson presents students with a simulation. Students are asked questions designed to guide them through interpretation of the simulations. (SP4 Analyzing and Interpreting Data)

Students are asked to explain the significance of data represented. (SP6 Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions)

Questions encourage students to support their explanation using evidence from the visual images. (SP7 Engaging in Argument from Evidence)

Students communicate their evaluations of the visual representation by answering questions throughout the online activity using spaces provided. (SP8 Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information)

There are two methods to enroll your students in this activity. Enrollment is required to record student responses. One method is to enroll students yourself. Using this method, you enter student names and create their user name / password. I complete this process for one class. For all the other classes, I had the students self-enroll.

This lesson uses the High-Adventure Science activity - What is the future of Earth's climate? developed by Concord Consortium.

"Feedbacks of Ice and Clouds" High-Adventure Science. Concord Consortium, 2015. Web. 23 May 2015.

Students in Action

45 minutes

Students in Action

I begin this lesson with a few questions for the whole class. These questions are designed to activate background knowledge. My students have recorded temperature changes of surfaces that are light colored and dark colored, finding the temperatures of dark surfaces to be greater than lighter colored surfaces.

Background knowledge is often referred to as the glue that makes new knowledge stick. This short series of questions primes student minds for new learning by activating their background knowledge.

What happens to your overall body temperature when you wear dark clothing on a hot summer day? It makes you feel warmer. Why? Dark colors absorb heat.

Can you think of other examples of surfaces that absorb heat in the summer sun? Yes, the blacktop is impossible to walk on barefoot because it is too hot.

Why do we wear light colored clothing in the summer time? It is the opposite of dark colors. You feel cooler because light colors do not absorb heat like dark colors do.

Can we say that light colors reflect heat? Yes.

In this lesson you will discover how Earth's surfaces and clouds affect the temperature of our planet.

Screen Shot of Student Page

If you need to clarify your understanding, it is perfectly acceptable for you to confer with the scientists at your table group. You may also ask me any clarifying questions you have about the lesson. 

The website provides suggested answers to each question. I use these notes as I circulate around the room as students work. I like to work with my students one-to-one or small groups. The High-Adventure Science format also allows me to run a report at any time. The reports can be generated for all students or one student, all questions or a single question.

In the resources section you will find a sample report generated at the end of each section. My students select the print option and select PDF as their printer. The PDF responses are then shared with me via Google Drive.

Here is an example of another valuable teacher tool from High-Adventure Science that helps me support individual student learning.

Connecting the Learning

10 minutes


I like this discussion of "How Clouds Affect Earth's Temperature" from the TED-ED video and ask this question of my students.

Science is never settled; it is always open to modification if new observations or experiments contradict the prevailing understanding. Do you think this lack of certainty is the strength or weakness of science, and why?

Students express frustration about the weakness of our current understandings but are also fascinated by the questions scientists are asking - what we do not know for certain.