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Problem-Based Learning: UV Menace

Scenario and Teacher Pages by NASA's Exploring the Environment Team - Starting Point Page by Rebecca Teed (SERC)
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Nov 16, 2006

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Logo element from Exploring the Environment

A problem statement is a student-centered challenge requiring cooperative effort. For this project, the student group needs to assess the causes, effects, and possible solutions to ozone depletion. The student team:

  1. Brainstorms about their pre-existing knowledge and assembles a summary of what they (collectively) already know (some of it may be outdated or incorrect) and where they learned that knowledge.
  2. Works out what they need to know to go further (this may include checking pre-existing knowledge)
  3. Divides the knowledge needed to move on into discrete questions or areas of expertise (such as hydrosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere) and assign different pieces to different team members.
  4. Individual team members head for the library and search the Internet for information about their aspect of the problem. They need to be in contact with their teammates in case they find something relevant to another part of the problem.
  5. Once research is done (or time runs out), the individuals write up their chapters and gather with their team to edit them for correctness and consistency and to write a collective introduction and conclusion.

The instructor should make sure all of the students have a decent background in basic atmospheric chemistry and the effects of ultraviolet radiation. A lecture may be necessary. Students may also need help with chasing down sources and keeping their groups on track.

Learning Goals

As they work on this project, students will:

Context for Use

This project is for an Earth system or environmental science course and will probably take three class periods over a couple of weeks.

Tropospheric ozone above Indonesia caused by smog

Teaching Materials

The Learning Cycle

The project starts with students doing assessing their prior knowledge of the the problem. This serves a lot of purposes.

Independent research allows the team members to construct their own knowledge and synthesis of the chapters lets them learn from one another. Encouraging them to edit one another's work furthers learning and critical thinking. The introduction and conclusion allows the group to reflect on what they have learned and to assess its own progress.

The Teams

I've found teams of four students to have the fewest problems.

Ozone Hole over Antarctica from TOMS data Oct. 1999

The Scenario

The UV Menace (more info) subsite is part of NASA's Exploring the Environment (more info) site which has an extensive collection of scenarios suitable for problem-based learning. It includes brief sections describing the problem in general, and its specific relationships to the hydrosphere, atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, and anthroposphere, plus a page on what remote sensing can tell us.

The Problem Statement

The final product can take the form of a paper, a presentation, or a web site.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Four things I found to make problem-based learning run more smoothly:


If you are designing your own rubric/grading standards for the problem statement, the assessment section of the Teacher Pages for Exploring the Environment (more info) has detailed advice.

Specific rubrics from ESSEA Online Courses can be used to grade a two-part problem statement:

References and Resources

For more Problem-Based Learning advice, examples, and scenarios:
Meteor3 satellite equipped with ozone-measuring equipment


Environmental Science:Global Change and Climate:Ozone depletion, Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Meteorology:Atmospheric structure and composition

Resource Type


Special Interest

Remote Sensing

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Ready for Use

Ready to Use

Earth System Topics

Climate, Atmosphere, Human Dimensions:Health


Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Climate Change, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Weather, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Atmospheric Science, Environmental Science

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