The Little Ice Age: Understanding Climate and Climate Change

This is a classroom activity about the forcing mechanisms for the most recent cold period: the Little Ice Age (1350-1850). Students receive data about tree ring records, solar activity, and volcanic eruptions during this time period. By comparing and contrasting time intervals when tree growth was at a minimum, solar activity was low, and major volcanic eruptions occurred, they draw conclusions about possible natural causes of climate change and identify factors that may indicate climate change.

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Lisa Gardiner
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)

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Teaching Tips

Teaching Tips

Improving the assessment: Discussion is okay, but the student understanding of the key concepts of this activity should also be measured using a questionnaire or by letting them interpret other data sets that they have not yet seen.

The science background provided in the "Teachers Guide" could be used for students. If this is done, it would be important to have guiding questions to accompany the reading.

The Solar Activity graph is missing a units label on the left hand axis. Students need to be told that the data is in Watts per meter squared (W/m2)

Educators may want to note to students that the "tree growth" data is derived from measurements of tree rings.

It should be pointed out to students that the variations in tree growth is an indicator of climate change while the volcanic activity and sunspot activity are causes of climate change.

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