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September 23, 2013

Climate Change as a Scientific Theory

By Katie Gould, Teacher Resource Producer for PBS NewsHour Extra

Subjects

Science, Language Arts, Social Issues

Estimated Time

One 90-minute class period

Grade Level

Grades 9 – 12

Overview

This lesson is designed to help students better understand the concept of scientific theory, then use what they have learned to evaluate the scientific theory of climate change.

Students will explore one type of observation scientists use to study climate change — glaciers and sea ice melt — through online video and interactive media tools. Students will be asked to evaluate the strength of climate change as a scientific theory based on evidence they find, and reflect on what it means to both local and global communities.

Warm Up Activity

Introduction to scientific theory and climate change

  1. Pass out page 1 of the handout “Theory vs. Scientific Theory” and have students follow along as they watch the Bite Sci-zed video “Theory vs. Scientific Theory” from Alex Dainis.
  2. Give students a moment to answer the discussion questions at the bottom of page 1, and ask for volunteers to share their answers verbally. Copy down their answers on the board for question 2 — “How would you go about studying it?” — then ask students to nominate answers that would provide the best evidence to test the scientific theory of climate change.
  3. Explain to students that they are going to be exploring one indicator of climate change that scientists use…Play the trailer for “Chasing Ice to reveal that the indicator is ICE!
  4. Pass out pages 2 and 3 of the “Theory vs. Scientific Theory” handout and have students read to themselves or read as a class.

Main Activity

Investigating sea ice and glacier melt as indicators of climate change and their impact on communities.

  1. Pass out the “Effects of Climate Change on Communities and Online Resources” handout to students. Contextualize how sea ice and glacier melt has changed the landscape of the Arctic and the different ways it has impacted the sailors and businesses by watching the PBS NewsHour story, “Challenges for sailors, businesses when Arctic ice melts” (8 minutes) and have students take notes on their handout.
  2. Explain to students that they will be exploring several web pages to research sea ice and glaciers in-depth, and that they should write down any evidence they collect that indicates climate change and cite the source on their handout “Sea Ice and Glaciers as Indicators of Climate Change. Have students use their “Effects of Climate Change on Communities and Online Resources” handout to explore the sites listed and learn more about sea ice and glaciers as an indicator of climate change. Students should not try to get through all the resources, but view what they can in approximately 30 minutes.
  3. In order to help students understand how climate change effects local communities show them Melting Ice Threatens to Erode Inupiat Way of Life in Alaska and have students take notes on their handout.
  4. After students have filled out their evidence and cited their sources, explain that they are going to write a scientific review of the evidence by addressing the topic, “Does the evidence of sea ice and glacier melt support the scientific theory of climate change?”
    • Students will use the four cornerstones of a scientific theory (see the handout “Theory vs. Scientific Theory ) to evaluate how strong the evidence of sea ice and glacier melt is in terms of supporting the scientific theory of climate change. Students should include examples of evidence they found in their research and cite their sources as they make their claim. Here’s an example of how to outline their evaluation:
      • Rigorous scientific testing - Time lapse photography has shown repeatedly that there has been a change in sea ice and glacier melt that corresponds with climate change. Through observation there has been ample evidence that climate change is occurring.
      • Prediction and explanation - We can predict that the loss of sea ice and glaciers are occurring at a faster pace and that animals dependent on sea ice are being forced to change their habitat and adapt to the new climate.  Sea levels are rising because there is a greater amount of water in the ecosystem since sea ice and glacier melt is rapidly increasing.
      • Consistency - There are other examples of climate change that support the observed effect of greenhouse gases on ecosystems.  Further we see a change in sea ice and glacier melt throughout different parts of the globe, for example the Arctic and the area around Mt. Everest.
      • Parsimonious - The release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere increases the temperature which causes sea ice and glaciers to melt more quickly.  This phenomenon is not complicated; it is a simple application of what we believe to be a consequence of greenhouse gases upon sea ice and glaciers.  If ice is in a warmer atmosphere it melts.
      • Conclusion - The evidence of sea ice and glacier melt strongly supports the scientific theory of climate change.
    • Students will end their paper with a brief discussion on how sea ice and glacier melt has effected the local and global community. Hint: think back to the videos “Challenges for sailors, businesses when Arctic ice melts“ and Melting Ice Threatens to Erode Inupiat Way of Life in Alaska and use your notes from your handout you took on the videos.
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  • Common Core Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and link to and cite sources as well as to interact and collaborate with others, including linking to and citing sources.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.8 Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.9 Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.8 Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claim or a recommendation for solving a scientific or technical problem.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.9 Compare and contrast findings presented in a text to those from other sources (including their own experiments), noting when the findings support or contradict previous explanations or accounts.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.8 Evaluate the hypotheses, data, analysis, and conclusions in a science or technical text, verifying the data when possible and corroborating or challenging conclusions with other sources of information.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.9 Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.

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