Global Warming: Here and Now, Then and There
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
This activity provides an opportunity to practice critical reading and writing skills.
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
- Students will be able to explain how geoscientists determine past climate, and predict future climate.
- Students will be able to describe how climate is a controlling factor in history, economics, and cultural development.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
- Students will be able to be able to correlate related concepts from various written sources.
Other skills goals for this activity
- Students will be able to use the internet to find appropriate articles for research.
- Students will be able to write a short research paper with a limited number of sources.
Description of the activity/assignment
Brian Fagan is an emeritus professor of anthropology at University of California, Santa Barbara who has written several books about past climate change and its effect on the course of European history. His latest book, "The Great Warming," focuses on the Medieval Warm Period (circa 10th to 14th centuries) during which the North Atlantic region experienced an unusually warm climate, and discusses historical events and trends that can be correlated with this climatic change. This assignment uses this book, along with student-retrieved newspaper articles, as the basis for a research paper that addresses the issue of global warming, its effect on past civilizations and its anticipated effect on the future of the citizens of New York City.
Based primarily on "The Great Warming", students address the following questions in a 5 page paper:
- What methods and data sources do scientists use to determine climates of the past? How reliable are these various approaches?
- How was European climate different during the Medieval Warm Period, and how did this climate affect the lives of people in Europe?
- How was climate different during the Medieval Warm Period for one other region of personal interest, and how did this climate affect the lives of people who lived in that region?
Using information from "The Great Warming" and three to six articles from past issues of a major newspaper, such as the New York Times, students determine probable effects of global warming to the future populations of either their home city, or of the region for which they documented past climate change.
Determining whether students have met the goals
Phase One: Students submit a 250-word summary of the predicted effects of global warming on their home city, based on three newspaper articles; instructor grades papers satisfactory or unsatisfactory (requires resubmission) and indicates two one or two targeted areas that could improve the writing (e.g. verb tense issues).
Phase Two: Peer review of draft papers in a "speed dating" format, such that 3 to 5 students read a segment of the paper and each suggests an aspect for improvement; the author summarizes and responds briefly to suggestions, and submits this summary to the instructor.
Phase Three: Instructor assigns final grade to edited version of paper.
Download teaching materials and tips
Fagan, B., 2008, The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations. Bloomsbury Press, 282p.
New York Times Online Archive: http://query.nytimes.com/search/archive.html