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Chemistry of Climate Change

Created by: Jennifer LeBlanc
Date: Jul 29, 2021
Duration: 200 minutes
Grades: 6th, 7th, 8th
Subjects: Science, Chemistry, Earth Science
Keywords: climate change, atomic structure, lab, inquiry, chemical changes
Formats: Jamboard, Google Sheets, Google Slides
Synopsis

In this climate chemistry mini-unit, students begin with an inquiry lab to understand how carbon dioxide creates warming in the atmosphere. Then, in small groups students explore the atomic structure and chemical formulas for the main greenhouse gases. Finally, students use the carbon footprint calculator to estimate their carbon footprint and create pledges to reduce their carbon footprint overall.


Step 1 - Inquire: Complete greenhouse effect lab.


Step 2 - Investigate: Describe the molecular structures of greenhouse gases.


Step 3 - Inspire: Take a carbon footprint quiz and commit to one action to reduce carbon footprint.


Accompanying Teaching Materials

Inquire
60 minutes
  • Students complete greenhouse effect lab. 
    • Teacher sets up the greenHouse effect lab for small groups and describes the lab with instructions to the students. Follow all instructions in Greenhouse Effect - Investigating Global Warming.
    • Notes regarding the chemistry of climate change lab setup or how to reduce the time spent on this section:
      • If the lab does not have temperature probes, you can use a thermometer. 
      • Non-Lab Option 1: If there is no lab equipment, show pictures of the three setups. Talk about independent and dependent variables. In this case, the independent variable is the “atmosphere” in the beaker. The dependent variable is the temperature. Allow students to make predictions about what they think will happen. Then share the lab data with the students and have students analyze the data and create a graph. Then students make a conclusion (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning Statement). Note: Show students the final graph of the results and allow students to discuss why they think Beaker C had the highest final temperature. (Beaker C had the highest temperature because the carbon dioxide gas was added to the "atmosphere" and the plastic covering prevented the carbon dioxide gas from escaping.)
      • Non-Lab Option 2: To reduce the amount of time for the “Inquire” section even more, simply show the students the three lab beaker setups. Have students make predictions about the temperature. Talk about independent and dependent variables. In this case, the independent variable is the “atmosphere” in the beaker. The dependent variable is the temperature. Allow students to make predictions about what they think will happen. Then show students the graph of the results and allow students to discuss why they think Beaker C had the highest final temperature. (Beaker C had the highest temperature because the carbon dioxide gas was added to the "atmosphere" and the plastic covering prevented the carbon dioxide gas from escaping.)
Investigate
110 minutes
  • Teacher leads a short discussion to transition from Inquire to Investigate (15 minutes):
    • Teacher shows the figure on slide 2 of the Chemistry of Climate Change - Interactive Jamboard to connect to the Inquire section.
    • Teaching Script:
      • Teacher: Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and ozone absorb heat from the sun’s radiation. We demonstrated this with lamps and carbon dioxide in our chemistry of climate change lab. We created carbon dioxide by combining baking soda and vinegar. Was this a chemical or physical change? 
      • Student: (Answer: chemical change)
      • Teacher: When heat is absorbed by gas is this chemical or physical change?
      • Student: (Answer: Heat simply being absorbed without changing the compounds is a physical change. All compounds can hold heat energy. For example, H2O, or water, can hold heat energy and change from a liquid to a gas. It is still H2O.)
      • Note: Students should have a really good idea of chemical and physical changes based on previous science lessons in elementary or middle school.
      • Teacher: These greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, and ozone are made of several elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Today we are going to focus on the chemistry of climate change by looking at the structure of these elements and how they combine.
  • Students complete Chemistry of Climate Change - Interactive Jamboard activities. Students work in small groups of five or fewer to complete the four activities below. (Keep the Jamboard open the entire lesson.)

    • Teacher creates groups of students and then shares the Jamboard with the students so they can interact with the slides. The teacher should also have the Jamboard open on the teacher screen/whiteboard for the whole class to see. If there is not a device for every student, the Jamboard slides can easily be printed out and each group can write on a hard copy.
    • Fun Tip: Teachers can slide the printed copies of the Jamboard slides in a clear plastic sheet protector so students can use dry-erase markers and interact with copies. This will reduce the number of pages that need to be printed. Also, most school desks are able to handle dry-erase markers and easily be erased. Students love drawing atom models on their desks with dry-erase markers. Just make sure to test the desks first to make sure items can be erased. If you have black lab tables then dry-erase crayons by Crayola work really well.
    • Activity 1 (15 minutes): Show Activity 1 Description Video to your students.
      • Teaching Script:
        • Teacher: Carbon is one of the top five elements for the building blocks of life. It is also a key element in creating greenhouse gases. When carbon (C) combines with two molecules of oxygen (O2) in our atmosphere it creates carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. This is a leading greenhouse gas. Since carbon alone is a very important element for living things we will look to see which events on Earth release carbon into our atmosphere. Remember, once in the atmosphere this carbon combines with oxygen and creates carbon dioxide CO2. In this activity, you will focus on carbon release and determine if the release is a physical or chemical change. Take 5 minutes as a group to write down your thoughts regarding which of these events is a chemical or physical change.
        • After 5 minutes, teacher asks the students to share their thoughts, and the teacher can guide discussion by using the answer key below.
          • Answer Key: Chemical changes include soil respiration, plant respiration, volcanoes, deforestation when trees are burned, and burning fossil fuels. Physical changes include ocean loss and deforestation when the trees are simply cut down.
          • Extension Question: Which of these releases are naturally occurring and which ones are caused by humans?
    • Activity 2 (10 minutes): Show Activity 2 Description Video to your students. Attempting to draw a carbon atom model is a process of helping students make their previous knowledge or make their thinking visible. It is a process of respecting that students have experiences that shape their thinking and as teachers, it is important that we see where all our students are starting. Give the students 3 minutes to create a model of carbon inside one of the circles on the group page in the Jamboard. Then allow students to share their models with their group or whole class. When they share their model they need to explain their reasoning for why they drew their model the way they did.
    • Activity 3 (40 minutes): Show Activity 3 Description Video. This video has areas that need to be paused so students can work together on an activity. Correct the carbon atom model together and draw an oxygen atom model. Students should then pick their own atom models to draw. Have students focus on the elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen because these elements are what combine to make the main greenhouse gases.
    • Activity 4 (30 minutes): Show Activity 4 Description Video. This video has areas that need to be paused so students can work together on an activity. On the Jamboard, students will start by completing a vocabulary word sort. Then, in the video, they will listen to a discussion describing the difference between a chemical formula, equation, compound, and pure element. Finally, students will go through the NASA Climate Kids Greenhouse Gas Cards to analyze the chemical formulas of the main greenhouse gases. Additional information about each gas is on the NASA website, and students can read the back of each card if they finish the activity early.
    • Extensions: If any students or groups work ahead, encourage them to make a Kahoot so the class can play a quiz game later in the week. Students can also explore activities on the NASA Climate Kids Greenhouse Gas Cards website.
Inspire
30 minutes
  • Students complete the Carbon Carbon Footprint Calculator from the Global Footprint Network. 
    • Students open the Carbon Footprint Calculator website.
    • Students click on “Take the First Step” inside the website.
    • Students answer the 15 questions on the quiz.
    • Students click on “Skip to View My Results." They do not need to provide their information to receive the results.
    • Teacher explains carbon footprints:
      • We have learned all about the chemistry of climate change, carbon, and its structure. We know there are many processes that release carbon and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The carbon released by each person or each company is called a carbon footprint. The goal is to reduce our overall carbon footprint.
    • Students read the “How Do You Feel,” “Explore your Data,” and “Solutions” parts of the website. 
  • Students commit to one action to reduce their overall carbon footprint. 
    • After completing the activity, students create a mini-poster or sign a commitment document to commit to one activity to reduce their overall carbon footprint.
    • It is a good idea to follow up with students regarding their commitment.
    • Students can commit to an individual activity or a group/societal activity.
Teaching Tips

Positives

  • There are accompanying videos for each of the four activities in the Jamboard. You can pause the videos throughout your lesson to help your students.
  • This lesson connects well with the Comparing Air Quality Index and Cities: Finding Patterns in Data and should come before the long-term data collection because it describes the gases that are listed as variables in the Air Quality Index.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should be familiar with chemical and physical changes before starting this lesson plan.
  • You should watch the video on How to Use the Jamboard before beginning this lesson plan.

Differentiation

  • If you do not have the time or materials, there are two different non-lab options for the Inquire section.
  • Students can explore the NASA Climate Kids website if they have extra time.
  • Students can create a Kahoot or use another quiz website to create questions for their classmates.
Standards
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • PS1: Matter and Its Interactions
      • MS-PS1-1 Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • PS1: Matter and Its Interactions
      • MS-PS1-2 Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • MS-ESS3-5 Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

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