InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Carbon, Climate, and Energy Resources > Instructor Stories > Pamela Gore
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Pamela Gore: Using Carbon, Climate, and Energy Resources at Perimeter College, Georgia State University.

About this course

A traditional introductory-level environmental science course.

20
students

Two 75-minute lecture
sessions and
One 2 hour and 45 minute lab
session per week
A large, multi-campus public two-year institution
(about 21,000 students) which is a college of Georgia State University.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 939kB Jan30 16)

This module was taught in a laboratory course to accompany the environmental science lecture course. The laboratory investigates the scientific aspects of the impacts modern society has upon the natural environmental systems of Earth. Lab activities examine some of the problems associated with the future sustainability of critical components of Earth's hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere. The course is designed for non-science majors. 1 credit.

Course Goals and Content

The environmental science laboratory accompanies the environmental science lecture course. It is a 1-credit lab course for non-science majors, and satisfies a Laboratory Science Core Curriculum requirement for an associate's degree. It will transfer to fulfill requirements for the bachelor's degree. The goals of the course are to:
  1. apply the scientific method and procedures to investigate a question, analyze data, and arrive at a conclusion
  2. use laboratory techniques including the accurate recording of observations and measurements and the manipulation of data through graphing techniques and mathematical analysis
  3. characterize some of the critical processes for the proper functioning of Earth's natural environments found within the hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere and geosphere
  4. utilize quantitative and qualitative methods to determine the human impact on the environment and to assess the effects of the growing population of humans on Earth
  5. develop a greater understanding of the current rate of use of Earth's resources and the problems associated with finding sustainable practices regarding future supplies of food and energy
  6. interpret maps as models of Earth

A Success Story in Building Student Engagement

I piloted this module in the middle of the spring semester in my environmental science lab class, and it really livened things up and got the students engaged with the material.
Students hear a lot of misconceptions about science topics, particularly related to climate change, and these units really got the students thinking.
They learned to identify misconceptions and logical fallacies, learned about the carbon cycle and evidence for climate change, how fossil fuels form and how carbon dioxide levels have been changing in the atmosphere, and actually got to try to determine the best way to deal with the problem by evaluating several proposals. They are now more confident in how Earth's systems interact and respond to change when they hear climate change discussed.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials

I used the module in my laboratory classes, where we had extra time, and where the students could interact easily around the lab tables. They enjoyed the short videos, the discussions of the material, and the hands-on activities. Overall, the students said that they learned much more than they usually do in lab with a traditional lab manual, and they want me to adapt other labs to the style of teaching and learning that is used in these activities. It was a great experience.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to My Course

When I first piloted the materials in my environmental science lab, we worked through all six of the units, in order, doing two units per week in a two hour and 45 minute lab. We were covering similar topics in lecture (energy resources, atmosphere, and climate change), so using the module in lab fit very well with the lecture topics. The next semester I taught the course, I just used a few of the units, and incorporated some of the optional materials and expanded the units to fill the entire lab time. This felt a little less rushed, and gave us time to explore some of the topics in greater depth. I would like to use all six modules in order and cover one in each lab session. I also found that I could use some of the PowerPoints in lecture class to reinforce what was covered in lab, and to enrich the experience of lecture students who were taking lab from other instructors.

Unit 1

  • The handout explaining the logical fallacies was great. I never realized that there were so many types of logical fallacies, and neither did my students. The students had fun making up their own fallacies, and working in small groups to identify the various types of fallacies. They had all heard many of these types of arguments before, but now they can identify them as fallacies. Then we watched the YouTube video in which Pete's appearance changed a little bit for each fallacy. He has since redone the video and now wears a variety of funny costumes, which makes it even better. The PowerPoint presentation showed us logical fallacies and facts about climate change, and the students had to determine which statements were true and which were false. We worked through the slides and checked our answers at the end. Then we went back over each statement. There are detailed explanations in the presenter notes below each slide, and in an accompanying document, which I read to the class, but this began to feel like too much reading. It probably works best to give the handout of these statements to the class, and let them determine the explanation for each of them, and have them report back to the class. The instructor can then use the presenter notes to evaluate their answers.

Unit 2

  • I found that my students had not watched the pre-lab videos, so we watched several of them in class. To see all five videos would take about 20 minutes. The instructor should be sure to watch all of them before class, and note the comments on the instructor notes pages about what to possibly omit.
  • We cut out the atom cartoons, but ran into questions about whether we needed to arrange the atoms in the correct shape for the molecules, or just put them in a pile. I was thinking that they needed to be arranged, so we looked up the shapes online and I drew them on the board. We also found that if we tried to make all of the molecules and lay them out on the table together, that we ran out of hydrogen atoms. We were given 12 of each, but we needed a total of 18 hydrogen molecules.
  • In order to do the chemical reactions (photosynthesis, respiration, etc.), we first tried to write out the equations on the board and balance them, and looked them up online to be sure. For example, photosynthesis is 6CO2 + 6H20 = C6H12O6 + 6O2. In order to show both sides of the equation, we would have needed more atom cutouts (24 hydrogens to show this complete reaction), so maybe we were over-complicating it. We did not end up with dramas or stories. We struggled to get through creating all of the reactions.
  • When we did the "Where is the Carbon on Earth?" activity, I found that students had little or no conception of what sorts of materials contained carbon, so this was confusing for them and took a lot of explaining.
  • The video version of the PowerPoint presentation is great, but we had trouble getting it to work on our lab computer initially, so it might be best to try it out in advance.
  • Be sure to read the instructions to the class before you do the carbon cycle game, and be sure you have lots of dice on hand — one per student!! There was a lot of reading involved. We were not sure whether to have the students read the section out loud, or if everyone was supposed to read it to themselves.
  • We did not do the circle drawing activity because we did not have large enough paper to draw them on. Rolls of bulletin board paper would probably have been needed. We tried taping printer paper together, and tried to scale the activity down to be able to use a 12-inch ruler, but that did not work well. And the students had trouble drawing the circles because there was nothing to stick the thumbtack into, to hold it in place. (I suggest getting a piece of wood or cork board to put under the thumbtack). I would skip this activity next time if I did not have large rolls of paper available.

Unit 3

  • We worked on the foram coiling activity, but my students were unsure about what a foram was or how to use Excel, so they ended up calculating the percentages by hand with a calculator, which took a while. Then they graphed them by hand on graph paper.
    Instructions of how to add formulas to calculate the percentages would be helpful, such as:
    "In the white line above the spreadsheet, type = and click on the two squares you want to add, with a + sign in between. Example: =C5+D5
    Then click off of the table so the answer will appear. Then once the answer appears, click on the lower right corner of the spreadsheet cell, and a + sign will appear. While holding it down, use the mouse to move down through the rest of the spreadsheet and the answers will appear."
    "To calculate percent, type = in the white line above the spreadsheet and click on the first cell for right coiling, which should add C5 to the blank line. Then type /. Then click on the total of the two numbers, cell E5. This will calculate the percentage. Follow a similar procedure for left coiling percentages."
  • For the Vostock activity, I showed the graph to the students from the Instructor's copy of the spreadsheet, and the students answered the questions in the Word document.
  • We did not have time to get to the Snowball Earth activity.

Unit 4

  • The students enjoyed the PowerPoint with the interactive questions on fossil fuels, renewable and non-renewable energy resources and got a pretty good understanding of the basics.
  • The short video "Coal, Oil and Natural Gas" includes an activity, about 5 and a half minutes in, where students compare and contrast oil and coal resources using paper cutouts which they place on a Venn diagram. They enjoyed working on this and it tied closely to the video.
  • Since I was teaching this module in a lab class, we used the optional activity and I had the students look at hand specimens of the various types of coal. They got to identify and describe them, which was great, because my environmental science class had not had any experience with rocks before. The activity on the origin of oil, in which students organized slips of paper into the correct order, turned out to be a lot of fun, and almost everybody got everything correct because of the way in which the statements are written.
  • The origin of oil activity was a lot of fun. Students put various stages of oil formation in order using the clues provided, and we reviewed the order of events using the PowerPoint presentation, which contains the answers in order at the end.
  • After class, one of the students told me that this was the best lab we had done all semester, and he really learned a lot!

Unit 5

  • My students watched the two introductory videos while I taped the Gallery Walk diagrams and questions up in the hall, along with some large chart paper. I gave everyone a washable colored marker, and they went into the hall to work on the diagrams and questions. It was great to see small groups of students having intelligent conversations about graphs of changing CO2 concentrations. This was the first time that any of the students had done a Gallery Walk activity, and they seemed to enjoy having the opportunity to escape from the classroom for a few minutes. We regrouped in the classroom and looked at the PowerPoint so we could discuss the diagrams as a group. I projected the questions and asked students to respond with answers. Once they came up with the correct answer on their own, I clicked the PowerPoint and the correct answers appeared. The students needed hints before they came up with photosynthesis as a cause of seasonal declines in CO2. They were mainly thinking about temperature rather than plants. At the end of the PowerPoint, I had students write the answers to the review questions. We ended with the two videos on ocean acidification. I offered to let the students do the optional activities for extra credit. Overall, the lab went smoothly and the students grasped the information.

Unit 6

  • The students really enjoyed reading and discussing the mock proposals. Some of them were funny or outlandish, and some made sense. Students read them in class, because we had a little extra time. The students learned a lot, were able to review and think about concepts covered in each of the units, and apply what they had learned about logical fallacies from Unit 1.

Assessments

After doing the lab activities, I had the students write answers to the review questions in the Unit 4 and 5 PowerPoints. I also had the students answer the questions in the Summative Assessments. Students were able to articulate much of what they had learned, and show that they had met the learning goals for the activities. I modified the assessments to remove any questions relating to activities that we did not do.

The summative assessments are included as quizzes in each of the units in this module. Many are multiple choice, true/false, or short answer. Others are short essays asking students to articulate what they have learned.

Outcomes

My vision and goals for this module were to help students to have an informed understanding of some of the critical issues facing our world at this point in time. These include our energy future (in a time of declining oil supplies, fluctuating prices, and uncertain global political and economic conditions), and the consequences of continuing unbridled use of fossil fuels, namely rapid increases in atmospheric (and oceanic) carbon dioxide, and the resulting climate change or global warming. There are those who seek to cloud these issues with logical fallacies, and this module helps students see through the smokescreen and recognize the difference between fact and fiction. Introducing students to authentic data provides them with a strong sense of how scientists know that the world is changing, and a background to evaluate these issues clearly. My students learned a lot and this information will be very useful to them in the future, as we will doubtlessly see these issues increasingly in the news in the future.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »