Northeastern (46th Annual) and North-Central (45th Annual) Joint Meeting (20–22 March 2011)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:45 PM


FURMAN, Tanya1, ZEMBAL-SAUL, Carla2, CRANE, Robert3 and MERRITT, Mark2, (1)Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, 333 Deike Building, University Park, PA 16802, (2)Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Pennsylvania State University, 141B Chambers Building, University Park, PA 16802, (3)Department of Geography, Pennsylvania State University, 221 Walker Building, University Park, PA 16802,

It is essential for young people to understand the context of national and international conversations around climate change. This topic can be difficult to approach for many reasons, including a desire to avoid conflict with students and/or parents, a lack of engagement with the complex scientific arguments, and the challenge of working with the large temporal and spatial scales required to place modern observations in context. We approach this latter problem through a series of structured-inquiry activities based on authentic data that can be modified readily for differentiated instruction across the middle grades and beyond. The first essential distinction to address is that between weather and climate. We encourage examination of rainfall or temperature records for the local area to allow students to determine annual and long-term patterns; manipulating the data provides a vehicle for integrating mathematics as students may calculate average or mean data and consider standard deviation. These data are available from National Climatic Data Center ( To explore the climate history of the globe, we employ data from the Vostok ice core in which proxies for temperature have been determined for a period of 160,000 years; conversations around the conditions needed for gas entrapment highlight the temporal complexity of these data ( This rich data set allows discussion of long-term global climate patterns as measured in Antarctica as well as the changing concentrations of greenhouse gases over time long before the Industrial Revolution. A complementary approach to long-term climate variations involves the use of fossil pollen data from sediment cores taken in the East African Rift lakes ( These data extend back over 22,500 years and allow students to apply their knowledge of modern plant diversity as controlled by rainfall to the determination of past climates. Taken together, these guided activities help students understand the context of climate and the types of data that are used to reconstruct the global record. Armed with this background they are poised to add new information regarding human impacts of the environment in a meaningful way.