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The Heat is On: Cause and Effect and Climate Change

Secondary, Middle

Description

In this lesson, students will practice distinguishing between correlation and causation within the context of global climate change. Students will think critically  and analyze different claims and data sets related to what may be causing increased temperatures in a fictitious town called Solutionville, as well as around the globe. The temperature and carbon dioxide data they analyze are real and will allow them to see relationships between global temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.  Finally students watch a video that explores the formation, chemistry and use of fossil fuels after which they begin to explore the connection between human activity and global climate change.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

The lesson focuses on the skills required to distinguish between correlation and causation - skills associated with critically analyzing different claims and data sets.

Strengths

The ability to distinguish between correlation and causation is critical if students are to participate in addressing the many issues that confront today's society. The debate over global warming provides an effective context in which to introduce students to these differences. 

While the lesson itself is short and focused with limited goals, additional material is provided to pursue certain topics in greater depth.  The lesson is one from the compilation, Exploring Energy: Designing a Brighter Future.  Other lessons  explore additional topics.

Weaknesses

The examples used to illustrate correlation could be more convincing than the simple examples provided.

Recommendation of how and where to use it

The lesson may be used in general terms as part of an examination of what is meant by the scientific method or more specifically as a specific piece in the study of climate change.

Relevant Curriculum Units

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  • Alberta
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    • Grade 12
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        • Science 30: : Energy and the Environment
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        • Senior 2 Science: Weather Dynamics
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        • World Geography: A Human Perspective - World Resources, Energy, and Environment
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        • Citizenship and Sustainability: Area of Inquiry: Environment
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        • Physical Geography 110: The Atmosphere
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        • Environmental Science 120: Investigating Environmental Issues
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        • Science 1206: Weather Dynamics
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        • Environmental Science 3205: The Atmosphere and the Environment
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        • Experiential Science 10, Terrestial Systems: Climatology and Meteorology
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        • Science 10: Weather Dynamics
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        • Experiential Science 10, Terrestial Systems: Climatology and Meteorology
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        • Science 30: Energy and the Environment
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        • Science (Academic):Earth and Space Science: Climate Change
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        • Environmental Science (Univ/College Prep.) Conservation of Energy
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        • Science 421A: Weather Dynamics
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        • Environmental Science 621A: Environmental Challenges and Successes
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        • Geography 10: Climate
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        • Science 10: Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics
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      • Environmental Science
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        • Environmental Science 20: Atmospheric Systems

Themes Addressed

  • Air, Atmosphere & Climate (1)

    • Climate Change
  • Citizenship (1)

    • Ecological Footprint
  • Energy (3)

    • Alternative Energy
    • Energy Generation
    • Energy Use

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Good

There are two components to the lesson plan. The first component focuses on the skills students need to distinguish causation from correlation. Students explore this difference in examining the hypotheses put forward to explain the rising temperatures in Solutionvile. Two of the three hypotheses are amusing correlations, while the third - rising levels of carbon dioxide - is intended to illustrate causation. Those who reject the link between fossil fuels and rising temperatures might argue that the "deck was stacked"

The second component focuses on content. In this case the students watch a video, What's the Deal With Fossil Fuels? which makes the case for the link between fossil fuel consumption and warming temperatures. 

While science is clearly on the side of recognizing the link between fossil fuels and rising temperatures, the correlation component of the lesson might have used more demanding hypotheses than those put forward without reference to fossil fuels. 

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Good

A series of discussion questions are attached to the video, What's the Deal With Fossil Fuels? and these encourage students to explore and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of fossil fuels, the effects of our increased use of fossil fuels, ways in which we might reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, and the meaning of sustainability within the context of the fossil fuel debate. Such questions should lead students to an appreciation of the economic, environmental, and social implications of current and future practices with regard to energy consumption.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Good

An understanding of the differences between correlation and causation and the demands made by science to make the case. for causation may be expected to help students recognize the complexity of the issue and be better able to navigate the competing arguments made around the climate change debate

Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Poor/Not considered

In as much as knowledge and understanding are expected to inform our actions, we may presume that as students emerge from the lesson more informed about the cause and effects of climate change, they will act in a way that will reflect their increased understanding.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Good

The Extensions segment of the lesson plan has students investigate their use of fossil fuels and the impact that use has on the planet and its inhabitants. Consideration of this link between cause and effect may be expected to have students measure the implications of their actions against their values. 

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered

The Optional Extensions and Additional Resources components of the lesson plan invite teachers and students to explore climate change in greater depth and this would include attention to the varying effects climate change would have on different peoples and  populations. 

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Poor/Not considered

There is no overt effort to encourage student affinity with the natural world but any discussion of climate change has the possibility of students exploring its impact on the planet and its inhabitants.

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Satisfactory

The lesson plan introduces the students to the fictitious town of Solutionville and its efforts to understand what is happening there in terms of local temperature. Teachers may use Solutionville as an opening to have students discuss what is happening in their town with respect to temperature.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Poor/Not considered

The skills associated with distinguishing between correlation and causation are a necessary prerequisite for student understanding of past and current events/issues. 

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Good

The lesson plan addresses two focus questions -

1. How might we determine if one thing causes another?

2. What causes global temperatures to increase?

In addressing the first, students learn to avoid the fallacy of confusing correlation with causation and what constitutes "good evidence". Hypotheses put forward to explain the rising temperatures in the town of Solutionville are used to illustrate the difference between correlation and causation. The exercise is structured so that causation is attributed to fossil fuel use.

The second question is addressed by having students view a video that makes the argument for a link between fossil fuels and climate change. 

In both these instances the lesson takes the position that the jury is in and the link between fossil fuels and climate change is one of causation.

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Good

The critical and analytical skills associated with distinguishing between correlation and causation has benefits for student study in all subject areas.  

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Good

Students discuss and analyze various hypotheses put forward to explain the rising temperatures in Solutionville in order to determine the criteria that allow us to distinguish between what constitutes correlation and causation. They then apply this criteria to brainstorm ways they could test or confirm some of the claims made in the video, What's the Deal With Fossil Fuels? about the connections made in the video between fossil fuels, carbon dioxide, and rising temperatures.

Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.

 

Differentiated Instruction Good

The lesson adopts a variety of instructional strategies -  the use of graphic organizers, a simulation, small and large group discussion, and the viewing and analyzing a video presentation. The Additional Resources segment allows students and teachers to explore the topic of climate change in greater depth.

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Good

The lesson creates a fictitious town - Solutionville - that is trying to understand why the temperature of the community is rising as a way to have students understand the difference between correlation and causation within the context of global climate change.

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Satisfactory

The lesson plan includes small group work in which students judge the merits of various hypotheses put forward to explain the rising temperatures in Solutionville.

Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Poor/Not considered

No formal assessment tool is included in the lesson. Teacher assessment of student understanding would be based upon class discussion and student presentations of their group findings.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Satisfactory

Students work in small groups to debate the various hypotheses about the warming temperatures in Solutionville and present their conclusion to the larger class. 

Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Good

The fictitious town of Solutionville serves as a case study in global warming but the temperature and carbon dioxide data they analyze are real and enable them to see relationships between global temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Satisfactory

The lesson would be described as an example of guided inquiry. 

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.