This Week In Climate Science Class


This week in Climate Science class we explored a little about the subject of Paleoclimatology. It turns out that the study of past climates gives scientists very valuable information into how Earth’s Climate system works.  Understanding the variables and  mechanisms involved can yield predictions for the future.

We found new uses for the I-pad in this exploration. One handy feature of the I-pad is the camera, which takes pretty nice high resolution pictures. This became very useful as students worked with a “tree cookie” (cross section of a tree). The goal here was to get a taste of what it is like to do a little past climate detective work with tree rings. Students took a photograph of our tree section, then pasted the photo into their “Notability” document. From there they could edit and crop to magnify the photo. Notability also allows a student to draw directly on the photo, making notes about good growing years and poor growing years. Nifty, aye?!


Photo Courtesy of Cassie Cote

Beyond the cool techy stuff, students also experienced the challenges of doing real science. Rings were difficult to count accurately so even the most basic question of the tree’s age had to be hashed out among the students and repeated counts mimicked the scientific process of attempting to duplicate other researchers’ results. Students also discussed at length the various factors in the environment that could account for good and bad years, and how those factors may or may not yield information about past climate. Finally students brainstormed on how they could increase the accuracy and precision of their results. Ideas they came up with included taking many more samples of tree rings in the area, including a variety of species of trees. Students also recognized that it would help a great deal to be experts on tree diseases, parasites and nutritional needs, so they could better sort out the factors affecting tree growth.


Photo Courtesy of Meredith Rowe

A Little About this Course

Everything we are doing in this course this year is totally new and experimental. I created this course originally 2008, motivated by both a sense of its importance and a passionate personal interest in the subject, and taught it for 5 years in a much more traditional “bookish” manner.  We used a college level text (no one is writing a high school level text for Climate Science that I have been able to find).  In 2013 my school did not offer Climate Science because I was needed to teach Honors Biology for a person away on sabbatical.  It was actually a good thing to rest the course for a year because the time for reflection has me taking an entirely new approach.  As you can see my goal is to make it maximally experiential and hands on, out of the belief that this is how students truly learn at a deep and meaningful level.  Because Climate Science by its very nature incorporates pretty much every branch of science out there, I am using it as a framework to help students grow as scientists.  We are using this I-book “Earth’s Climate” written by John Price as our scaffolding and jumping off point.  All the activities, what I am calling “Explorations” are being invented one unit at a time.  Honestly, it is a pretty terrifying experience as a teacher because I never know how things are going to work, and of course it is a tremendous amount of work to create all this from scratch.  However the experience is exhilarating and the students are definitely learning and enjoying the process so it is all worth it!


About Sue Houston

I've been teaching high school science for over 25 years. The more I learn, the more questions I have about how good education really works. This blog is an attempt to explore the fundamental question of "How do Kids Learn?" This blog will include posts related to technology in education, neuroscience, behavioral science and real life experiences in the classroom. Please, I invite you all to join the conversation in the comments sections. Perhaps together we can find more insights into how kids learn! If you are a student, educator, or past student (that covers everyone, right?) you have something to contribute! :)
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