InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Modeling Earth Systems > Summative Assessment: Creating a model
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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 materials are free 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.
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Summative Assessment: Creating a model

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.

Overview

In this assessment, students decide on a system to model, then develop a model in order to address a question of interest and test hypotheses. They communicate their results in the form of an opinion editorial to the broader community.

Science and Engineering Practices

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking: Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations. HS-P5.2:

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations: Plan an investigation or test a design individually and collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence as part of building and revising models, supporting explanations for phenomena, or testing solutions to problems. Consider possible confounding variables or effects and evaluate the investigation’s design to ensure variables are controlled. HS-P3.1:

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations: Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated. HS-P3.5:

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information: Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically). HS-P8.5:

Developing and Using Models: Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system HS-P2.3:

Developing and Using Models: Develop and/or use a model (including mathematical and computational) to generate data to support explanations, predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems. HS-P2.6:

Asking Questions and Defining Problems: Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of the school laboratory, research facilities, or field (e.g., outdoor environment) with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis based on a model or theory. HS-P1.6:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Systems and System Models: When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models. HS-C4.2:

Systems and System Models: Systems can be designed to do specific tasks. HS-C4.1:

Systems and System Models: Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models. HS-C4.4:

Systems and System Models: Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales. HS-C4.3:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Earth Materials and Systems: Earth’s systems, being dynamic and interacting, cause feedback effects that can increase or decrease the original changes. HS-ESS2.A1:

Summary

The summative assessment for this course requires students to construct, utilize, and critique a numerical model of a climate-related Earth system of their choosing. The project involves four pieces: creating a model (STELLA file), making an ~15 minute in-class presentation about the project, writing a 12–15-page paper, and writing a short op-ed article.

Learning Goals

As the summative assessment, this project necessarily addresses the four course goals:
  1. Students will be able to create a model of a dynamic earth system.
  2. Students will be able to use a model to make a predictive hypothesis and then test that hypothesis through experimentation.
  3. Students will be able to critique and make judgments about the uses and limitations of models.
  4. Students will be able to explain the main components, feedbacks, and forcings of the global climate system, including the role of humans as one of the principal forcings.

Context for Use

This is a final course project intended to assess students' learning over the course of the semester. It is not recommended as a stand-alone assignment since it builds upon material covered over the entire semester. It can be used as a group project. Used as written, it will require instructors to set aside time for students to make in-class presentations.

Description and Teaching Materials

The assessment asks students to choose a climate-related system and to use data and/or primary literature to inform the construction of a numerical model using the software package STELLA. Students are asked to make and test a predictive hypothesis, and to evaluate both their results and the model itself in a paper. In the paper, students are also asked to reflect on their learning throughout the course and specifically during the final project. Finally, students are asked to write a short op-ed piece in which they explain their results, including any policy implications, to a general audience. A complete assignment description, rubric for grading the op-ed, and rubric for grading the final paper can be found here:

Teaching Notes and Tips

By the end of the course, students will have the tools to construct and use fairly complex box models. They will know how to import data sets into their models (either for use within the model, or for comparison), how to run sensitivity tests, and how to link many different kinds of model components together. As instructors develop expectations for the summative assessment, and as they discuss these expectations with students, it is worth mentioning that we feel students can address the learning goals of the course (and therefore the assessment) without making a model any more complex than they have already constructed in the course of the semester. In many cases, it may be possible to address these goals by making a significantly simpler model than those in the course. Effective communication between instructors and their students on this point will be crucial to managing any anxiety students may feel about such an open-ended project. While we think that the models from the course are good examples of what students should shoot for, some instructors may want to show students an example model early in the course to get students thinking about their projects. In this case, in order not to "give away" any upcoming units, we suggest that instructors use the model from a previously published activity on landscape diffusion as an example of a similar level of work, mostly unrelated to climate change and therefore unlikely to be a final project topic.

In the description of the assessment (above), we make some suggestions about systems students might model if they are having trouble coming up with their own ideas. These include:

  • Eutrophication of a lake or estuary
  • Stream flow/hydrographs
  • Biocontrol of invasive species
  • The carbon cycle (or a subset of the carbon cycle) and human impacts on it

Again, it is important to note that students do not have to model every aspect of these (or any) systems to be successful. They need to include enough detail to address the hypothesis that they are testing. For example, if a student's hypothesis is that decreased land clearing for agriculture is a more effective way to reduce carbon emissions than decreased driving, they probably do not need a fully functioning model of the ocean carbon cycle.

Assessment

This assessment addresses the course goals as well as the InTeGrate guiding principles. It addresses the grand problem of climate change and human impacts on the environment, which are inherently interdisciplinary problems. It requires students to develop and apply geoscientific methods, and to use credible geoscience data in the construction and/or critique of the model. Finally, the focus on modeling climate-related systems requires students to incorporate systems thinking.

References and Resources

Files used in this assessment:

Teaching Themes

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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 »