What's Wrong with This Picture?

Perry Samson
University of Michigan
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In LectureTools, after an introduction to basics of energy transfer students are presented with image of infrared radiation and asked which parts of image make sense and which parts do not. This invariably leads to questions about why Equatorial region registers cold and yields a teachable moment about radiative transfer.

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This is the image used for this activity. Click to enlarge.
Introductory course for non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Overview of wavelengths of light and rules governing radiation emission.

How the activity is situated in the course

Stand-alone exercise.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

What affects radiative emissions from Earth?

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Synthesis of new information (on radiative transfer) with inherent understanding of Earth's features.

Other skills goals for this activity

Sometimes I simply record and display the students' responses in LectureTools and then ask them to break into groups to defend their answers with option to vote a 2nd time and/or to provide a justification for their choice.

Description of the activity/assignment

I try to break lecture into a series of mini-lectures each on a limited scope. For this they have been exposed to concepts of Stefan-Boltzman law and basics of wavelength. After the initial discussion I pose this activity and take time to let students discover what doesn't make sense to them in the image followed by open discussion for possible explanations, generally leading to an 'ah-ha' moment.

Teaching Tips

Adaptations that allow this activity to be successful in an online environment

DO NOT ANSWER THE QUESTION! Give plenty of time for students to mull the image and subsequent question. Let discovery come from the students.

Elements of this activity that are most effective

It's not scientific but the collective 'ah-ha' suggests they have resolved the conflict in their minds.

Recommendations for other faculty adapting this activity to their own course:

Use images from your field in LectureTools (or however) to challenge interpretation of visual data. This is a skill that is integral to being a scientist and students in science courses should be expected to participate in such activities.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Similar question is presented on subsequent exam.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

What's Wrong with This Picture? --Discussion  

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