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US Historical Climate: Excel Statistical

Activity and Starting Point page by R.M. MacKay. Clark College, Physics and Meteorology.

This activity has been selected for inclusion in the CLEAN collection.

This activity has been extensively reviewed for inclusion in the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network's collection of educational resources. For information the process and the collection, see http://cleanet.org/clean/about/selected_by_CLEAN.

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: Sep 7, 2006

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


In this intermediate Excel activity, students import US Historical Climate Network mean temperature data into Excel from a station of their choice. They are then guided through the activity on how to use Excel for statistical calculations, graphing, and linear trend estimates. The activity assumes some familiarity with Excel and graphing in Excel. (see resources below for introductory Excel suggestions)

Learning Goals

Use Excel To:

Context for Use

Good activity for courses with climate change content and/or in which an instructor anticipates using basic statistics throughout the term.

Teaching Materials

Figure 1. Monthly mean temperatures for Maximum (January) and Minimum (July) variability months for Vancouver, WA example. (click image to enlarge)
Figure 2. Annual mean temperature, least squares trend estimate, and smoothed data for Vancouver, WA example. (click image to enlarge)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity will take students about two hours to complete. Students unfamiliar with Excel should complete an introductory Excel activity (see resources) before working through this activity. Students should be able to work through this activity at home or in a computer lab will no supervision. Students more familiar with Excel can work through this activity more quickly.

Although this activity focuses on temperature data, precipitation data is also available at this USHCN site as a possible extension to this activity.


Grading the completed activity sheet provided can be used as an assessment of student understanding. The future success of students on other Excel related activities is also another useful assessment tool.

A link to an Excel Answers Document is provided above with several sheets representing different levels of completion for this activity. This can help instructors: assess student success for this activity; answer student questions that come up; and quickly familiarize themselves with the activity.

References and Resources

The World Population Activity I or Sea Floor Spreading Activity I are good Excel tutorial activities with geoscience content for students with no Excel experience. Other geoscience examples that use Excel are also available.

Global temperature data 1856-2000 (more info) from P. D. Jones,D. E. Parker,T. J. Osborn, and K. R. Briffa.

Global temperature data 1880-2003 (more info) NASA GISS surface temperature analysis.


Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climate Change:Paleoclimate records, Environmental Science:Global Change and Climate:Climate Change:Paleoclimate records, Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Meteorology:Measurements, Environmental Science:Global Change and Climate:Climate Change

Resource Type

Activities:Lab Activity

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Ready for Use

Ready to Use

Earth System Topics

Climate, Atmosphere


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

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