I try to do at least one short science class each summer, and this time I decided to do a class on the science of climate change using Blair H. Lee’s book that came out in 2017. Her book, The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course, is available as an ebook or a you can purchase a print version, you can also get it as a kit with the supplies you need for the activities.
I taught this over 4 classes (2 hours each), adding some of my own labs to help the kids understand some basic chemistry and left some of the activities in the book for them to do at home. The first class was about the Greenhouse Effect and we went over atoms and molecules and a little bit about the periodic table and scientific notation. I did the same activity I always do, where I give the students a blank ‘atom’ and have them write in the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus and then color in the right number of electrons for each atom. Then we discussed how certain atoms prefer to bond with others because they want full shells. I had students do the box activity from the book, where you make a small box and calculate how many air molecules are in the box and then how many different green house gas molecules, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are in your box. Even though each of the greenhouse gases are a very small percent of the atmosphere there are still a huge number of them in the box. Because we’re talking about BIG numbers we went into scientific notation a bit and did some practice problems using scientific notation.
I also had the students build all the molecules commonly found in air (listed on a table in the book) with the snatoms (shown below) and zometools that I have. This is where I found an error in Lee’s book, the author shows carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide as bent molecules like water and they are linear molecules so I corrected the table on p 14 with the correct shapes and printed out copies for my students. I also had the cards from the zometools which showed how to make the molecules.
I showed the following videos in class on the first day:
The second class started with the greenhouse effect experiment from the text. We took two beakers and put a thermometer in each one and covered one with plastic wrap to simulate a greenhouse. We placed both beakers in the sun and recorded the temperature over 30 minutes and discussed our results.
We then moved on to combustion, observed a candle burning and discussed the different things required for combustion to take place and the products formed. I have a few interactive notebook projects for chemistry that I’ve bought on teacherspayteachers.com so I had the students put together the one on combustion. I also burned a piece of Mg ribbon to show how different things can produce different amounts of light and heat, you can read more about it in a previous post.
The problem with greenhouse gases is they absorb sunlight and then emit infrared radiation (heat) back into the atmosphere. We looked at graphs of the concentration of the different molecules in the
atmosphere over the years and talked about how scientists can look at air bubbles trapped in ice core samples to determine what the atmosphere was like 10,000 years ago! To demonstrate
how different molecules can be identified by looking at the light they emit or absorb, I did the flame test demo where I placed different salts in a flame and students observed the different colors they produced.
We watched the following videos on day 3:
The text has a worksheet where students are to make a feedback loop for methane but instead of having them write in the steps, I grabbed some photos off the internet and had them glue each photo in the right spot. After that we did the activity from the book where you look up the weather for a particular date for that past 30 years and talked about the difference between weather (short term) and climate (long term). I dug out another interactive notebook activity, this one on the scientific method that came with a life science bundle from Getting Nerdy with Mel & Gerdy. I gave examples for the scientific method based on the video we watched on the methane bubbles in the ice. Lastly we did the carbon sink activity from the book where you drop antacid tablets in warm water and cold water and observe the behavior of the carbon dioxide bubbles. I was actually pretty surprised by how dramatic a difference there was. The tablet dissolved very quickly in the warm water so make sure the kids are watching as they drop them in.
On the fourth and last class day we looked at the pH of different household chemicals using red cabbage indicator. To make the indicator chop up a red cabbage and place in a big pot with water, boil 10 minutes and then let it cool. Strain out the leaves and you’re left with purple pH indicator. If its really dark you can dilute with more water. I did this the night before class. Below you can see the tubes filled with a variety of colors indicating acids (red/pink) to neutral (purple) to bases (green/yellow).
We did this lab because one of the other changes happening is that the oceans are becoming more acidic which is harmful to marine life.
Finally we did a few more interactive notebook activities for recycling and renewable energy. These were also from the life science bundle from Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy, in the Ecology lessons.
I didn’t want to leave the class depressed with all the doom and gloom of climate change so I showed the following video on different ideas that some people have come up with to help with the problems.
I ran out of time to show them this one about different things we can do reduce our carbon footprint.
This was a fun class and I think I may do it again next year or offer it during the year as a short course. It makes for a nice way to introduce some basic chemistry, scientific method and scientific notation along with some current events/problems.