InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Climate of Change > Unit 5: systems@play > Case Study 5.2 - Interpretations: Reading the Book of Earth
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Case Study 5.2 - Interpretations: Reading the Book of Earth

Cynthia M. Fadem, Earlham College (fademcy@earlham.edu)
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This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.


This page first made public: Jun 24, 2014

Summary

I designed this activity to provide students with a comprehensive experience working with real climate data. Students graph, analyze, and critically interpret ice core data from Greenland. You can implement this teaching collection as part of the Climate of Change InTeGrate Module, Unit 5, or as a stand-alone activity.

Learning Goals

During this activity students:

  • Graph and analyze ice core methane data.
  • Calculate the rate of change in modern atmospheric concentration.
  • Compare the radiative forcing of CO2 and CH4 quantitatively.
  • Predict the next chapter in this story and the place of humanity in it.

My goals in creating this activity were to:

  • Demystify climate data by providing students with a comprehensive experience using it, from raw data to interpretation.
  • Increase student confidence in quantitative reasoning via guided inquiry.
  • Enable students to think critically about climate data and evaluate their implications for human populations.

Context for Use

Prior to the activity some instruction in the nature of glaciers may be necessary for full student comprehension of what exactly their proxy data analysis represents. If you are using the rest of Unit 5, no additional instruction is necessary. The assignment does require basic facility with a spreadsheet or graphing program.

This activity takes roughly 30 minutes and can be used

  • as a stand-alone in-class activity on the climate system and climate modeling in an introductory geology, meteorology, geography, or environmental science class,
  • as a lab on climate science and climate records when coupled with Case Study 5.1,
  • as a lab on rates of glacial change when coupled with Case Study 4.2, or
  • as part of the complete Unit 5 and/or Climate of Change InTeGrate Module.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity focuses on interpreting geoscientific data and examining relative changes in climate.

In the first half of the activity, students graph GISP2 ice core methane data. They interpret this graph and calculate the modern rate of change in methane.

In the second half, students place these data and interpretation into context via comparison of the relative forcing power of methane and carbon dioxide. Guided inquiry allows the students to use basic calculations to predict the climate future and gives them the ability to evaluate our potential responses to this change.

Questions embedded in the activity ask students to analyze their data, reflect on their findings, and evaluate the future we face. Many of their responses will vary in both correctness and insight. Depending on the rest of your course material and students' experiences, you will have to gauge acceptability of some responses; so the instructor's notes are simply a guide rather than a key.

Display materials are available to provide brief instruction on the GISP2 coring project and to display the data (and then graph, once students have completed graphing on their own).

There are further opportunities for reflection and synthesis if you complete both Unit 5 activities, as students will be better able to place their experience of climate data in a systems context in Case Study 5.1.

Materials:
Case Study 5.2 Display/Lecture
Click to view

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students with numeracy issues may have difficulty with quantitative tasks.

  • Encourage them to follow the instructions exactly.
  • Encourage them to read the questions carefully.
  • Explain why a particular question is being asked and what it means, if necessary.

Students without spreadsheet experience may have trouble with accessing and graphing the data.

  • It may be most effective to have the class do this part with you, step-by-step if many have trouble.
  • If only some have trouble, ask this group to perform the tasks with you.
  • If only a few have trouble, help them individually or have them pair up with classmates and encourage co-instruction.

For introductory courses in which students have little experience with earth or climate science prior to this activity, students may find the interpretation and evaluation tasks challenging.

  • Have them work in pairs or groups and discuss the questions prior to writing out answers.
  • Give a lecture and/or lead a discussion concerning greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect prior to the activity.

Assessment

You can use this activity formatively or summatively, but I recommend using it formatively. You can develop exam questions to assess this activity directly from the learning outcomes.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »