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

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 »