Cutting Edge > Visualization > Teaching Activities > The Heat is On: Understanding Local Climate Change

The Heat is On: Understanding Local Climate Change

Dan Zalles
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SRI International
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
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This page first made public: Feb 6, 2008

Summary

Students draw conclusions about the extent to which multiple decades of temperature data about Phoenix suggest that a shift in local climate is taking place as opposed to exhibiting nothing more than natural variability.

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Context

Audience

This curriculum module has been used in high school environmental science courses, including for 11th and 12th grade students in the regular science track and for 11th and 12th students in the Advanced Placement track.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The students should understand the basic characteristics of microclimates, the effects of feedback loops and carbon emissions on global warming, and urban heat islands.

The students should also have had some practice interpreting geospatial data on GIS images, analyzing data (pre-statistically) for trends, designing evaluative research, and supporting claims with evidence.

How the activity is situated in the course

This has been used as a supplement to curricula about climate because it focuses on the practice of inquiry through the application of concepts already learned in the curriculum to the inquiry tasks.

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

Differentiating between urban heat island effects on temperature trends and effects of carbon emissions on temperature trends.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity


Using technologies to collect, organize, and display data
Formulating evaluative research design
Reviewing, summarizing, and explaining information and data
Formulating testable hypothesis
Making logical connections between hypothesis and design
Constructing a reasoned argument
Expressing scientific skepticism
Critiquing explanations according to scientific understanding by weighing the evidence and examining the logic

Other skills goals for this activity

Understanding that interactions within and among systems result in change.

Description of the activity/assignment

The is a curriculum module from the project Data Sets and Inquiry in Geoscience Education (DIGS). The module consists of a week-long unit and two-day performance assessment in which students apply the inquiry skills to problem-based investigations of urban micro-climates. The unit and performance assessment present semi-parallel tasks but about different cities (Phoenix and Chicago).

Sudents draw conclusions about the extent to which multiple decades of temperature data about Phoenix suggest that a shift in local climate is taking place as opposed to exhibiting nothing more than natural variability. The data are from the Global Climate Historical Network (GHCN) database. GHCN is a large, multi-year, international project to measure temperature, precipitation, and air pressure from near the ground. Each monthly maximum and minimum temperature is the highest and lowest temperature reading for the month, measured in Celsius. In Phoenix and in most other places, the temperature data are collected at local airports. The performance assessment for this module requires that students apply the methods and findings from the investigation of the climate data for Phoenix to climate data for Chicago. The Chicago data shows less evidence of trends in temperature change, and this is most evident comparing the night-time minimum temperature fluctuations between the two cities. Chicago also exhibits less increase in urban development and population growth than does Phoenix. In contrast to the curriculum unit, which primarily uses constructed-response tasks to encourage student explanation and discussion, the climate assessment tasks pose explicit selected- and constructed-response questions to ensure that the items elicit the intended thinking and hence provide evidence of the targeted standards-aligned skills and understandings.

Determining whether students have met the goals

The performance assessment measures student learning from the unit by posing a "near-transfer" activity. In other words, the assessment requires that students apply the methods and findings from the investigation of the climate data for Phoenix to climate data for Chicago. The Chicago data show less evidence of trends in temperature change, and this is most evident comparing the night-time minimum temperature fluctuations between the two cities. Chicago also exhibits less increase in urban development and population growth than does Phoenix. In contrast to the curriculum unit, which primarily uses constructed-response tasks to encourage student explanation and discussion, the climate assessment tasks pose explicit selected- and constructed-response questions to ensure that the items elicit the intended thinking and hence provide evidence of the targeted standards-aligned skills and understandings. Each item on the assessment has an associated rubric that is aligned to the National Science Education Standards. There is a scoring guide that presents examples of student work for each each score point per rubric.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Supporting references/URLs

All materials for this activity can be downloaded from http://digs.sri.com ( This site may be offline. )

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