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Teaching climate science tips and strategies  

What is one good strategy or technique you use while teaching about climate change to engage and/or inspire your students or clarify a topic?


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Following on Lisa's carbon footprint idea, I use a 3-week project that challenges the students to dramatically cut their energy consumption and waste output. It is a huge effort but it sends a powerful and lasting message!

I am also interested in having students work on a policy-related angle, but I have not had much success with that yet. Anyone have good ideas there?


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I'm not sure yet as to whether I have a "good" technique that engages or gets through to the student. That's one of the main reasons why I'm signed up for this webinar. In both my Natural Disasters and Env. Geology courses, I introduce CC by establishing the basic science of climate and the greenhouse effect, then showing them temperature (land & ocean)data, along with CO2/CH4 data (recent and ice cores). I then show the detailed temperature trends for the last two decades (NCDC) showing how the rate of warming appears to be increasing, and also my Top 10 list (of warmest years since 1880). At the end of class I have them fill out a survey about their thoughts on the data and the science, and what their "feelings" are about CC. I'm not fond of these kinds of student surveys (the feelings for 100-200 level students).... but, interestingly over 95% answer that they want to learn more about the topic. But again, I haven't developed any specific exercise for my students and would love to hear more from others.


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I use this one with very young children when trying to convey the concept of climate variability, but I think it is useful with adults as well. I ask them "What month is warmer (in Wisconsin), September or November?" They all eagerly respond "Duh!! November". I then ask, "Does that mean the every day in September is warmer then every day in November?" Well, everyone who lives in Wisconsin can remember some very cold days in September and some very warm days in November. In the same way, just because we have a very cool summer one year does not mean that the climate is no longer getting warmer. November will still be warmer then September.


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It's not entirely up-to-date, but here's a link to a writing assignment I use in the 100-level environmental geology class:

(If anyone wants to see a more recent version of this assignment and/or a powerpoint presentation that describes the assignment, let me know).

The students' final product is a thesis-driven paper, using at least some contemporary sources, on the cause(s) of the Dust Bowl.

On the way there, we analyze temperature and precipitation records for several long-record stations in North America, some in the "traditional" Dust Bowl (e.g. Manhattan, KS) and some outside it (e.g. Minneapolis MN). Each pair of students is responsible for one station; they do the analyses in EXCEL and create powerpoints that the whole class can access. Students discover that some of the stations show late 19th-century droughts of about the same order of magnitude as the 1930s drought; they also discover that high temperatures and low precipitation were more widespread than the classic Dust Bowl region (so were the economic effects. . . )


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As an introduction, I have found that including a discussion of the the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and the Little Ice Age (LIA) to be particularly germane, not only for discussing the effects of climate change (warm and cold), but in addition it helps to highlight the complexities of the climate system and the challenges facing climate scientists.
Significance of this discussion include:
1) Creating a links between the effects of Climate Change on known human history such that students can internalize the potential for future climate change. Specifically how past climate effected not only the populations health but its creative endeavors as well.
2) Can be used to show that there could be potential winners and losers in a climate change model (Europe vs. the Americas).
3) Knowns and unknowns about the causality of climate change and why the subject matter is so contentious. This leaves the door open for students to draw there own conclusions about what they feel their responsibility is to affect change in there lives based on the compelling scientific arguments you make for humans-caused CC.


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Hmm-- I hope I'm not posting out of place tonight. This issue of climate change is popping up on the hazards discussion site in preparation for tomorrow, but I see the last posts were two months ago. Still, we were asked to address three aspects, so here is my post #3 :>)

I like to use recent climate change (past 10,000 years) to show the nature of change through time. My emphasis on time goes beyond the usual deep time (age) and ordering of events offered in most geology texts. For nearly twenty years I've also emphasized additional qualities such as patterns, magnitudes, frequencies, durations, and rates.

With all the emphasis on human-caused climate change, I've found that many students believe that if anthropogenic cycling of carbon ceased, then we'd have no changes to contend with at all. The most dangerous parts of such delusional thinking are (a) that carrying capacity of the planet is fixed and static, (b) that we can safely build to that capacity and (c) natural climate changes take place over hundreds of thousands of years if not longer and are neither rapid nor noticeable in the short term.

In 2008, university presidents and chancellors circulated and signed a letter advocating sustainability "...to reestablish the more stable climatic conditions that have made human progress over the last 10,000 years possible." I'd rather that the important issue of sustainability were championed through less carelessly written documents.

For a long time I've used the varved record in the Elk Lake core to have students confront their assumptions about these qualities of time. It shows four distinct climate changes in the past 10,000 years, which if repeated would certainly cause hardship on a planet built out "to capacity." A student & I published a paper (Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 55, n. 1, January, 2007, p. 36-50) on the uses of many exercises to teach about qualities of change through time, and the Elk Lake exercise is outlined in there.


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