Earth Educators Rendezvous > Previous Rendezvous > Rendezvous 2016 > Program > Afternoon Mini Workshops > Exploring the Use of Computational Models in Teaching Climate Change in K-12

Exploring the Use of Computational Models in Teaching Climate Change in K-12

Friday 1:30pm-4:00pm Gordon: Ed Gordon Suite
Afternoon Mini Workshop


Mark Chandler, Columbia University in the City of New York

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) require the teaching of science in a way that integrates the content with science and engineering practices (SEPs) and crosscutting concepts (CCs). Earth system and climate science are ideal areas for implementing an integrated approach to teaching because both involve complex systems and both require interdisciplinary content knowledge. However, this also requires teachers to develop an understanding of not only the SEPs and CCs, but also an understanding of a much broader range of content, if they are to effectively integrate these subjects into their teaching.

In this workshop we will focus our attention on the SEP Developing and Using Models and in particular on the use of computational models. In the NGSS the term model is very broad, encompassing pictures and physical models, diagrams, conceptual models, analogies, mathematical representations, and computer simulation models. However, the use of computer simulation models represents a particular challenge. Depending on the complexity, there can be significant time required to learn how to operate the computer model and run simulations. There may also be numerous levels of underlying mathematical concepts behind complex computer models, and these may be necessary to understand if the goal is to teach students how such models are built, or how to interpret and analyze model output. All of which makes computer simulation models difficult to integrate effectively into teaching.


1. Introduce workshop participants to computer simulation models that address climate change.

2. Articulate the major obstacles to effectively have students use these models to enhance their understanding of climate science.

3. Strategize ways to overcome these obstacles.


1:30 Welcome

1:40-2:10 Overview of climate change computer simulation models and modeling tools

2:10-3:55 Discussions to focus on the following questions as time permits.

  • What obstacles are there to using modeling tools in the classroom?
  • What scaffolding is needed to prepare students for modeling?
    • i.e. building up to the computer simulation models by first developing conceptual models of the processes being simulated
  • What are the incentives for the teacher and their students to use climate simulation models?
  • What time frame is needed to help students develop an understanding of a computational model that will help them move beyond treating it like a black box rather than questioning what is causing specific outcomes?
    • Corollary: What are examples of model uses that don't require intimate knowledge of how the model is constructed or the underlying mathematics?
  • Would it be more effective to integrate modeling over an extended period of the school year, involving brief but regular periods of classes, rather than intense efforts over just a few days or weeks?

3:55 Workshop evaluation

4:00 Adjourn

EDGCM_EER (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 29.7MB Jul22 16)

EzGCM_Assignment (Acrobat (PDF) 7MB Jul22 16)

Teacher_Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 70kB Jul22 16)