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In this lesson, students will practice distinguishing between correlation and causation within the context of global climate change. Using an inquiry-based learning approach, 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.
The lesson focuses on the skills required to distinguish between correlation and causation - skills associated with critically analyzing different claims and data sets.
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.
The examples used to illustrate correlation could be more convincing than the simple examples provided.
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.
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|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: |
|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.
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
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.
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.
|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.|
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.
Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.
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
Using an inquiry-bsed learning approach, 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.
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.
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
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.
|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.|
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.
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.|