Global Warming research project

Jun 19, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Uncategorized

This year I reinstated our Global Warming Research Project in lieu of a final exam in Physics!.  Why a research paper instead of a final?   I got to thinking about what I really wanted my kids to remember and use in their lives from physics.  I really want them to be informed, and to have the tools, and also the confidence and ability to build new tools to look at issues presented to them in order to make wise decisions.  How many times does a science concept appear in the media, and beyond that become a political issue.  I want my kids to be informed and to learn how to make wise decisions.  For many, this is the last physics class they would take ever.  Wow, the last physics class EVER!

So here is what I came up with.  We would look at and research global warming, or as it is now commonly called; climate change.  We look at all sides of the issue and try to glean the truth from massive amounts of articles, movies, TED talks and published papers out there.  One of my goals, and I tell the students this, is that they will not find out my stance on the subject.  It is important for them to come to their own conclusions and not try to pander to me.

Another reason why I decided to do this project in lieu of a traditional final was due to logistics. I saw each Physics! class only 6 times for the ENTIRE month of May!!!  So, doing more independent research was better than trying to learn something foreign and new, and I did not want to spend a month reviewing.

We had just finished a couple of difficult units, and the kids had just had their great cardboard boat regatta, so I decided to show a couple of videos in the class to get them into this topic.  I showed an An Inconvenient Truth. Granted, there may be other movies out there that do a much better job at explaining the science behind anthropogenic caused global warming.  I use this one because it is the most well-known, it won an oscar and it is a good starting point for our discussion.  We discuss the movie briefly.  I ask the students to pick out 5 supporting arguments they found in the film pointing to global warming, as well as ways the producers were trying to get you to see their side of the story.  We then watch The Great Global Warming Swindle created by the BBC.  It is a rebuttal to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.  Again, we discuss the movie briefly.  I ask the students to pick out 5 supporting arguments they found in the film pointing to global warming – or lack-there-of, as well as ways the producers were trying to get you to see their side of the story.

This usually provides us with a lot of avenues that the kids want to explore and research more.  Now, at this point, I feel a little uneasy with showing one film and then the rebuttal.  The fist viewpoint I think gets shorted some how.  So we watch 2 TED talks: one very Pro-Global-Warming and it is absolutely caused by man: James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change. The other TED talk is by Jeff Kuhn from Hawaii saying we that this is a very complex issue and we should continue to study it as we would other complex issues:  TEDxMaui – Dr. Jeff Kuhn – Liberating the Scientist in All of Us

Again, we discuss these videos as a class and so some whiteboarding on them to help up process what they saw.

Next year I may make it a homework assignment to watch the first 2 movies, and we could watch the two shorter TED talks in class.  They just took up so much precious class time.

During the time of watching movies, and discussing, I’m having my students gather their articles and develop a thesis statement for their paper.  We discuss how a scientific paper is different from an English or history research paper.  I have them use the method I was first taught on how to organize your information for your research paper.  We use notecards and cut and paste quotes from the articles on the notecard.  The student paraphrases the quote on the back of the notecard, and also writes all the necessary information for proper citing on the note card as well.  Then we can use these notecards to help us outline and form our paper.  We also spend a lot of time on their abstracts and what they entail.

Once a lot of research is done as a class, we have debates.  I also have articles with conflicting information, and we try to interpret what is the truth in the articles, and what was left out to that we may believe something else.  We try to always find the holes, and we are ALWAYS looking for the truth.  We distinguish between pollution, recycling and taking care of the earth and the issue of Global Warming.  I try to drive home the point that we are all called to take care of the Earth, and we should not pollute and we should recycle.  The topic of global warming is not that, it is asking the question, “Is the earth heating up?” and if the answer is yes, then what is causing it to heat up?  The kids get to see the complexity of the issue and how something very physical and “scientific” can be bogged down with so much politics.

Here are some of the hand outs and rubrics that I used for this project.
Final Exam Paper 2012
Rubric for Paper 2012

I created this project when I was taking one of my graduate education classes.  We had to do an “empowerment project.”  There are some wonderful things that I wanted to do with the Kyoto Protocol, and economics and how this was tied to global warming, but we didn’t get a chance to do that this year.  Perhaps next year.

Global Warming project

I must state, that even though I LOVE this project, and that I think it helps with my goal of all my kids becoming scientifically literate, it is a pain to grade.  I initially spend about 20 minutes per paper!  I eventually get it down to about 10 to 15 min per paper, but that still is a LOT of time, and I would much rather be grading physics problems.  This is also their final, so I have to get them graded and inputted fairly quickly.  So I camp out at my house, and my daughter is at day care all day for a few days.  Would I do it again, yes!


A few notes:

I can consider this a final exam because it covers two of the major units covered this semester: pressure and buoyancy and heat and temperature.  These topics are often discussed in the context of global warming.  Think sea levels rising due to glaciers melting vs. icebergs melting.  Water current, and air flow.  Localized changed heat capacities of land around cities due to the concrete and asphalt.  The list goes on.  The students have to have at least two supporting arguments in their paper that address these topics.

I know that there are a LOT of ways to make this a better project, and I’m working on some myself.  Please feel free to share any and all ideas, and please feel free to use/ take modify any of material.  I’ll put up an updated post after I iron out some of the improvements that I would like to make.

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