Teaching Notes

Example Output

Example Output
Graph of Surface Air Temperature comparing the A1Fi scenario with a baseline scenario.

EdGCM computer software is capable of producing both map-based and graphical outputs. The graph of the right is a graphical output of temperature change over time comparing a baseline and modeled output.

Grade Level

This chapter is appropriate for students in grades 9-16.

Learning Goals

After completing this chapter, students will be able to: 

  • gain insight into how Global Climate Models (GCM) are used to investigate global warming;
  • analyze climate simulation data;
  • compare and contrast the results of their global warming experiments with the actual observations compiled by climate scientists;
  • use EdGCM to visualize climate change's impact on a region and system of their own choosing; and
  • have the opportunity to present their visualization results to the class via PowerPoint or with the EdGCM journal feature.


Global climate models are one of the primary tools used today in climate research. Because of the computer computational requirements these models were originally developed and housed at national laboratories run by the government science agencies. NASA's climate modeling lab, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), is located at Columbia University in New York City (this is also where EdGCM was developed). NOAA's lab, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, is located in Princeton, New Jersey, while NSF funds the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. 
As a result of their complexity, these models are not well understood by the general public. This EET chapter strives to give teachers and students the opportunity to more fully understand the process and potential of climate modeling through a hands-on interaction with an educational version of climate modeling software. This educational version of the software differs from the original climate modeling software only in that it is designed to run on school computers, which are generally smaller and have less computing power than the supercomputers used by national labs. 


Background Information and Resources

Basic information about the climate modeling and EdGCM written for teachers by the EdGCM team is available at EdGCM website. Part 1 of this chapter includes an introduction to climate modeling. 

Some additional science articles on climate modeling that may also be of interest are listed below. Keep in mind these articles range in depth and difficulty. Please keep the age and ability of your students in mind when assigning reading. These resources may also be used for classroom presentation. 



Glossary of Terms


Prerequisite Knowledge

Students will gain more from this exercise if they already have a basic working knowledge of climate and the factors that control it such as: elevation, latitude, the Earth's orbit, seasons, temperature and precipitation. This unit can be used as a stand-alone unit or embedded in a larger unit on climate change. Ideally, students should also know basic information on greenhouse gases, the IPCC reports and scenarios, and the issues surrounding climate change impacts. This background information can be found online at IPCC home or in most environmental science texts. A helpful, although somewhat technical, summary document from the ARWG 4 report is the frequently asked questions page. Other helpful background documents on climate modeling can be found in the reference links above. Listed below are four excellent sources of information on climate change.

Learning Contexts

Students begin this lesson by examining decreasing snow and ice coverage. Using this case study as the initial introduction to the technical skills needed to use EdGCM, students can use EdGCM to investigate other subjects and questions of their own design. Students can use EdGCM to investigate the impacts of climate change on temperature, precipitation, snow and ice coverage. Students will relate global processes to changes that affect them at a local level. The contexts or subject areas that this lesson is suited for are broad. The outcome of the discussions will be guided by the parameters set by the individual instructor. The outcome could be, social, environmental or economic. This lesson is suitable for environmental science, world politics, geography, or earth science classes.


A printable (PDF) of this lesson is available here. EET_EDGCM_PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 6.5MB Jun5 10)

Instructional Strategies

As this lesson is outlined, students begin as a large class for part 1, move to individual or paired grouping for parts 2-5 and then form small "research" teams for part 6. The final class period should be a large group discussion of the research team findings and a comparison of the students' observations with those of the IPCC global impact reports


  1. Begin lesson with a recent news article or video clip. 
    Suggestions for online videos:
  2. Use a world map to discuss the concept of the regionalism of climate impacts. Suggestions for online maps:
  3. Show the introductory EdGCM powerpoint (PowerPoint 6.8MB Aug23 09). Explain climate change and climate modeling.
  4. Review the background information and Case Study as a class. Alternately, begin the lesson with the information and suggested activity described in Part 6 - design your own investigation for a more global perspective.
  5. Optional alternative: Give students an introductory worksheet with the EdGCM buttons and toolbars defined. Allow time for students to explore the software before beginning the lesson.
  6. Complete the lesson parts 1-6.
  7. Wrap-up the lesson with impacts presentations and group activity from part 6.
  8. Show the Americas Choice video. Discuss what is being done by the United States and what can individuals do? Use resources such as http://www.koshland-science-museum.org/exhibitgcc/responses01.jsp carbon footprint calculator.

Assessment of Student Learning

Teachers can adapt these assessment suggestions to their own classroom situation. 

  • Student work can be collected.
  • Students can create e-portfolios of their work including answers to questions, maps and graphs.
  • Part 6 - Design Your Own Investigation, could stand alone as an assessment of student work.

Time Required

Estimated times for completing the Case Study and each Part of the chapter. Total time 3-6, 45-minute periods will be needed to complete the case study and exercises. 
Running the climate model is a time consuming step, taking anywhere from 12 to 24 hours per simulation. It is suggested that teachers begin the program well (several days) in advance of using it with classes. As an alternative to running the model, it is possible to directly download the output file. Instructions for this shortcut are listed at the bottom of the page in Part 1.

Step-by-Step; Outline and Descriptions 

Preview -Introduction and Case Study
(45 minutes-can be done as homework)

Part 1-(1-24 hours, depending on connection) Download software, run simulation or download the output files for the 2 model runs; IPCC A1FI CO2 and Modern_PredictedSST 

Part 2- (30 minutes)Prepare - Read background materials and discuss the theory of climate modelling.

Part 3-(45-90 minutes) Engage – Generate and Analyze a Time Series graph of temperature. 
How dramatically will the Earth's surface temperature rise in the next century? What exactly is a model? How do climate change models work? What goes into the programming of a climate model? 

Part 4-(50 minutes) Explore – Generate maps of surface air temperature using EVA.
Use Analyze Output in EdGCM to generate data sets that can be mapped. Then use EVA to create several maps of temperature and snow and ice coverage under both global warming and non-global warming scenarios. Discuss why averaging is important. 

Part 5-(50 minutes) Examine – How will climate change impact winter snow and ice in the northern hemisphere? 
Use EVA to create a difference (anomaly) map of Snow and Ice Coverage. 

Part 6-(30 -60 minutes) Elaborate (and Assess) – Learn about climate changes impacts on another region, present findings to class. 
Use EdGCM and EVA to investigate another region and impact of your choice. Present your findings to the class. Why is climate change a truly global problem? 

Science Standards

The following National Science Education Standards are supported by this chapter: 
Addtional Standards are referenced in the Manual for EdGCM (Acrobat (PDF) 7.2MB Aug15 09)


Grades 5-8

  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
  • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.
  • Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results of investigations.8ASI2.4
  • Women and men of various social and ethnic backgrounds - and with diverse interests, talents, qualities, and motivations - engage in the activities of science, engineering, and related fields such as the health professions.

Grades 9-12

  • Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.
  • Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
  • Scientists rely on technology to enhance the gathering and manipulation of data.


Geography Standards

Standard 1. How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.

Standard 5. That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity.

Standard 7. The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface.

Standard 13. How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface.

Standard 14. How human actions modify the physical environment.

Standard 15. How physical systems affect human systems.

Standard 18. How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future.