Arctic Climate Curriculum, Activity 2: Do you really want to visit the Arctic?

by Karin Kirk and Anne Gold
written for CIRES, University of Colorado
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This jigsaw activity is designed for students to become familiar with several datasets of Arctic weather data, collected in Eureka on Ellesmere Island. Students join a role-playing activity to read and interpret graphs while considering the optimal time to plan a research mission to the Arctic.

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This activity was designed for high school science students. With adaptations it could be used for middle school students or introductory college students who are not science majors. It was classroom-tested for grades 5 through 12.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students need to have a basic understanding of how to read a line graph and how to do basic unit conversions. Students must also understand seasonal cycles of temperature, daylight, wind, and precipitation.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the second part of a three-part curriculum about Arctic climate. The parts may be used independently or in sequence. In particular, this activity sets the stage for Part 3 in which students plot and analyze Arctic climate data. Part 1 of this sequence allows students to explore Arctic geography, then take hands-on meteorological measurements to learn about how climate data is collected in the Arctic.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will be able to:
  • Read and interpret Arctic data graphs.
  • Articulate seasonal weather patterns in Arctic datasets.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This activity has several opportunities for higher order thinking. Students will:
  • Synthesize data from four different datasets to gain a sense for the overall weather conditions throughout the year.
  • Determine the optimal time to visit the Arctic, from the point of view various roles.
  • Create a measurable definition for "winter."
  • Compare Arctic weather to weather in their hometowns.

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Role playing: Students consider a collection of weather data from multiple points of view. For example, what would be the best conditions for conducting research on wildflowers, compared to observing and photographing the night sky?

Description of the activity/assignment

This activity kicks off with a warm-up exercise in which students read the NOAA State of the Climate report to learn about the Arctic environment, then propose three questions that they might like to learn about the Arctic. This part of the activity may be assigned as homework.

The main portion of this curriculum is a jigsaw activity that uses datasets for air temperature, wind speed, snow depth, and incoming solar radiation. Students form 'Research Groups' to learn about their assigned weather parameter and to work from a graph to describe how their parameter varies through the year.

Then the groups recombine and form 'Research Teams.' Each team is assigned a different purpose for visiting the Arctic.
Research Team 1 – Testing a fat-tired bicycle for travel across a snowy surface for field research
Research Team 2 – Collecting seeds from Arctic wildflowers
Research Team 3 – Astronomy research and photographing the night sky
Research Team 4 – Annual visit to maintain meteorological instruments at the research station.
The Research Teams consider each weather parameter to come up with a synthesis of the overall weather in Eureka, then decide when the best time for a trip would be. Because each team has a different role to play, they will come up with different answers.

Lastly, students work individually to consider whether they, personally, would want to visit the Arctic. They go on to describe how the Arctic weather, particularly the winter, differs from their own hometown.

An optional follow-on activity involves a group project to create an infographic that illustrates the weather in Eureka.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Both the Research Groups and Research Teams complete worksheets during the jigsaw portion of the activity. Then students complete an individual reflection that asks them to compare the Arctic winter with winter in their hometown. This structure allows for both group work and independent work.

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