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Exploring Regional Differences in Climate Change

Denise Blaha, Rita Freuder, Earth Exploration Toolbook from TERC

This teaching activity addresses regional variability as predicted in climate change models for the next century. Using real climatological data from climate models, students will obtain annual predictions for minimum temperature, maximum temperature, precipitation, and solar radiation for Minnesota and California to explore this regional variability. Students import the data into a spreadsheet application and analyze it to interpret regional differences. Finally, students download data for their state and compare them with other states to answer a series of questions about regional differences in climate change.

Activity takes up to four 45-minute class periods depending on how activity is used. Computer access is necessary.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Definition of climate and climatic regions
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4a
Climate change vs. climate variability and patterns
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4c
Changes in climate is normal but varies over times/ space
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4d

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

The earth has a variety of climates, defined by average temperature, precipitation, humidity, air pressure, and wind, over time in a particular place.
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The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming.
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Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Summary of regional impacts of climate change is weak and not very complete. Ideally the educator would do more research on these topics before teaching the lab so that they can guide students better in understanding the specific local effects of a changing climate.
  • A few guiding questions are suggested, but educator will have to develop additional assessment questions.
  • Questions that are given to guide the interpretation of the graphs should stress that the graphs are predictions of the future and, therefore, hypotheses and not facts.
  • Activity uses information from a model "black box," followed by a detailed, step-by-step instruction - educator has to make sure that the student learning of the content - regional variability of climate change - is achieved.
  • Summary of regional impacts of climate change is weak and not very complete. Ideally educator would do more research on these topics before teaching the lab.
  • Shortcut options: 1) Data is available on EET chapter website and does not necessarily need to be downloaded from EOS-Webster, 2) Go directly to Part 3 where the graphs are already presented with the analysis questions. However, to do the extension about the home-state, you need to access the EOS-Webster
  • Available professional development programs may be helpful in overcoming concerns about manipulation of large data sets.

About the Science

  • Activity uses data from a climate model to understand the regional variability of climate change in different US states (including their home state).
  • Students learn the application of Excel as a graphing tool to manage large data sets by using real climate data.
  • There is not enough information on the parameters that went into the model; a link is provided to background materials that indicate that the parameters that were used for the Canadian Climate Change model agree well with the IPCC model results, however, it would be better for an educator to have an overview of the exact parameters so that their validity could be discussed (especially if this activity will be used at the college-level).
  • Summary of regional impacts of climate change is weak and not very complete.
  • Very valuable to have students look at their home state because it makes climate change much more directly relevant.
  • Comment from scientist: There is much more uncertainty about regional climate changes and impacts compared to global changes. It is important that this be emphasized during the lessons.

About the Pedagogy

  • Well designed and well crafted with great guide for students and educators, clear guidance.
  • Weak analysis and assessment questions.
  • Step-by-step instruction doesn't foster creativity of the student.
  • Students that are not very tech-savvy might become lost in the materials and need good guidance.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Well designed activity with very clear screenshots that guide the user through the different steps.
  • Students need to be familiar with Excel.
  • There is an option of downloading the relevant data sets from the EET site without using the EOS -Webster interface, however the available data is comma-delimited (see instructions for import to Excel).

Performance Expectations

HS-ESS3-5: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

HS-ESS2.D1: Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere.

HS-ETS1.B2: Both physical models and computers can be used in various ways to aid in the engineering design process. Computers are useful for a variety of purposes, such as running simulations to test different ways of solving a problem or to see which one is most efficient or economical; and in making a persuasive presentation to a client about how a given design will meet his or her needs.

Science and Engineering Practices

HS-P1.2: ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.

HS-P1.3: ask questions to determine relationships, including quantitative relationships, between independent and dependent variables

HS-P1.6: 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-P2.3: 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-P2.6: 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-P6.1: Make a quantitative and/or qualitative claim regarding the relationship between dependent and independent variables.

HS-P6.4: Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

Cross-Cutting Concepts

HS-C1.4: Mathematical representations are needed to identify some patterns.

HS-C2.1: Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects.

HS-C3.5: Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

HS-C4.4: 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-C7.2: Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible.

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