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Grades 7-9, Unit 1

Climate Change in My Backyard Activity Descriptions

Unit 1: The Earth as a System

Unit 1 is divided into two sections that consider different Earth systems and how they interact. In 1A, students explore the Earth systems that create and affect climate including the Earth's energy balance and the greenhouse effect. They learn what the natural and human causes are of greenhouse gas emissions and explore how the sun's energy, greenhouse gases, and the Earth's surface interact to moderate global average temperature. They use a NASA data analysis tool to model different surface reflectivity and greenhouse gas scenarios. In 1B, students learn about the biosphere as a system. They explore how organisms interact with each other and their environment, how disturbances (such as climate change) can be felt throughout a food web. Finally, students learn about ecosystem services—the importance to humans of healthy, intact ecosystems.

1A. The Earth's Energy Balance and the Greenhouse Effect

Activity 1.1: Understanding the Greenhouse Effect

  1. Greenhouse Effect Lab: Students complete a lab activity that models the greenhouse effect and then discuss the natural vs. human-induced changes in greenhouse gas concentrations.
  2. The Earth's Energy Balance: Students create a diagram of the Earth's energy balance, answer opinion questions, and perform a skit to understand the Earth's energy balance. Students learn that all energy on Earth originates from the sun and what happens to the energy once it reaches the Earth's atmosphere. Students are introduced to the concept of greenhouse gases.

Activity 1.2: Micro-GEEBITT (Global Equilibrium Energy Balance Interactive Tinker Toy)
Students use the NASA Micro-GEEBITT climate-modeling tool to explore how changing variables in Earth systems impact global average temperature. Students model the effects of changes in surface reflectivity and greenhouse gases in different climate and emissions scenarios.

Activity 1.3: Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Natural & Human Causes
In this activity, students dig deeper into the greenhouse effect and explore natural and human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Students brainstorm, and then research, factors that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. They use the energy balance diagram they completed in Activity 1.2 as the basis for a new diagram that incorporates natural and human causes of greenhouse gas emissions. Students also brainstorm how they can reduce their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.

1B. Ecosystems and Climate

Activity 1.4: Nature Walk & Ecosystem Introduction
Students take a walk through nature and make observations of their surroundings. Students then act as different elements in and ecosystem—both biotic and abiotic—and demonstrate the interconnectedness between them. The activity provides both visual and tactile demonstrations of the interconnectedness of all components of an ecosystem, and explains that they are dependent on each other for survival.

Activity 1.5: Leaf Litter Ecology lab
Students examine the ecology of a local leaf litter (the forest floor) community.  Students collect and identify the living organisms on the plot, identify the trophic levels, and create a food web and a pyramid of biomass. Students then discuss how this demonstrates the carbon cycle.

Activity 1.6: Food for Thought, Climate Change, and Trophic Cascades
Students will watch a video clip and read an article about the impact of melting ice on the Arctic food web. Students diagram food webs with and without the effects of climate change, and will learn the concept of a "trophic cascade."

Activity 1.7: Ecosystem Services
Students will be introduced to the concept of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are functions and values of intact ecosystems to humans. Students will research ecosystem services in different states/regions.