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Introduction to Global Climate Change Through Classroom Discussion

This page authored by Becca Paulsen Edwards, Southwestern University
Southwestern University, Department of Physics
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Summary

For this classroom-based discussion, students will need to come to class having read the climate and climate change material from their textbook as well as selections from the IPCC report and other related articles assigned by the instructor. As they arrive, they will be instructed to participate in a Gallery Walk activity, in which they will brainstorm issues and thoughts in writing below a number of different headings written on the board around the room. Once everyone has had a chance to participate, classroom discussion will ensue based on their ideas. The Gallery Walk is important as it gets the students thinking and interacting with one another. Moving from topic to topic around the room enables them to think about the issues as related pieces of the same puzzle, which makes the discussion more productive.

Learning Goals

This activity develops critical thinking skills by requiring students to synthesize their scientific knowledge with their interest in environmental sustainability. The discussion format means they will need to think quickly and express themselves verbally to communicate with their peers. This activity reinforces both the scientific facts of the climate and climate change as well as the actions which need to be taken by individuals and the government to respond and prepare for the future.

Context for Use

This activity was used for an undergraduate survey course open to students from all levels and all disciplines. It is highly adaptable to other classroom situations. The students should have a basic understanding of the the global circulation, the composition of the atmosphere, climate, and global climate change. This activity was performed in a single 50 minute class period, but more time would have been beneficial.

Description and Teaching Materials

A week or more before the activity, assign students reading materials to prepare for the discussion. Some suggestions include selections from the IPCC report, online information (skeptical science among others), the climate and/or climate change chapter from your textbook, selections from the American Meteorological Society's Climate Studies textbook (2010, American Meteorological Society).

The day of the activity, prepare for class by writing headings on the board around the room for the gallery walk. Leave plenty of room for each heading because students will need to write their thoughts. Suggested headings include: Scientific Factors, Natural Causes, Anthropogenic Causes, Future Impacts, Role of Individual, Role of Government, and International Concerns. Provide several pieces of chalk at each station.
Depending on the arrangement of your classroom, it might be beneficial to move the chairs into a circle to facilitate discussion.

As students arrive, instruct them to move around the room and write a thought or idea or question under each heading. Allow 10-15 minutes for this, possibly more if you have a long class period.

Once the students have all had a chance to record their thoughts, begin the discussion by addressing one of the headings. A good place to start is with scientific factors. This will ground the discussion in the scientific facts related to Global Climate Change. Ask the students if they have any comments on the scientific factors. If they don't, you will be able to facilitate the discussion using the things they have written on the board. When they seem to have discussed everything from one topic, move to the next one. Since they have come to class prepared by doing the background reading and since they have spent the first fifteen minutes of class interacting with one another and brainstorming, the discussion will flow more naturally then in a traditional lecture-question format.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The pacing of the discussion will depend on the length of your class period and you may run out of time. If it is possible, it would be beneficial to have this activity during a lab period instead of a lecture period because then the discussion can flow more naturally and not be constrained by time. The idea is to get the students talking to one another and you will serve more as their facilitator than their instructor.

Assessment

The value of this activity is in the classroom discussion. In addition to giving credit to students who participated, an assignment can be made for students to write a one-page summary of the discussion as homework. This assignment is best done after class, as the student will likely have had time to think further on the comments made during class. A similar essay can also be included on a final exam.

References and Resources

Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis: A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

SkepticalScience.com: An online resource containing articles with address with scientific accuracy, more than a hundred commonly asked questions and misconceptions about global climate change.

American Meteorological Society Climate Studies Textbook: Climate Studies: Introduction to Climate Science, Joseph M. Moran. Publisher: American Meteorological Society ISBN: 978-1878220-04-2

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