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What's Up in the Environment?
overview | PROCEDURES

  Global Warming

Step 1 - State the Problem
Step 2 - Research, and Hypothesize or Predict
Step 3 - Plan Experiment and Gather Data
Step 4 - Analyze the Data and Make a Conclusion
Step 5 - Take Action
Step 6 - Assessment

Step 1 - State the ProblemMore information about this step

Tell students that according to the Environmental Protection Agency Web site:

  • Global mean surface temperatures have increased 0.5-1.0F since the late 19th century.

  • The 20th century's 10 warmest years all occurred in the last 15 years of the century.

  • The snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere and floating ice in the Arctic Ocean has decreased.

  • Globally, sea level has risen 4-8 inches over the past century.

  • Worldwide precipitation over land has increased by about 1%.

  • The frequency of extreme rainfall events has increased throughout much of the United States.

To gain some background knowledge, have students watch the WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video segment on Columbia University's Biosphere 2, or visit the Hot Topics AIR page of this Web site.

Ask students why a trend towards warmer weather, and more rainfall might cause problems for our ecosystem. Have them create a first draft of a chain reaction flowchart, using the facts listed above as starting points. Later on, in step 2, students will add or revise their flow charts to fill in missing information or correct misinformation entered in this step after completing additional research.

Resources for step 1

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet
  • WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video (optional)
  • For the flow charts - either PowerPoint or paper and pencil

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

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Step 2 - Research, and Hypothesize or PredictMore information about this step

Research the big picture for global warming

Start by researching these first three questions together:

  • What is global warming?

  • What are the main causes of global warming?

  • What effect does global warming have on the Earth's environment, and why is this dangerous?

Have students correct and update the flowcharts created in Step 1 to reflect the new information, and review as a class. Save this information for later when students design their energy efficiency campaign. Once the basic concepts of global warming are understood continue to have student groups choose from one of the questions below to research:

  • Do all scientists agree that we are experiencing global warming? Why or why not?

  • Why is it more of a problem now than it was before the Industrial Revolution?

  • Which countries, or regions, are the top producers of harmful greenhouse gases?

  • What are the main sources of pollution in these countries or regions?

  • What human activities create carbon dioxide, and how can emissions be reduced?

  • What industries create carbon dioxide, and how can their emissions be reduced?

  • Are there any existing programs that are attempting to alleviate the global warming problem? Why are they working or not working?

  • How does use of wasteful consumer products impact global warming?

Once groups find the answers, have them compile all the research findings into a fact sheet to share with the entire class.

Research consumer products

Now students will go on a fact-finding expedition to see how easy or difficult it is to get and use energy-efficient consumer goods that produce less CO2, thus alleviating our global warming problem.

Using a chart like the one below, students should list a number of different models of the same kind of product. You may want to have different groups research different products such as: refrigerators, air conditioners, hair dryers, cars, stereos, televisions, etc.

Sample chart for students to recreate:

Product type/name Kind of energy efficiency information for consumer on label Lbs of CO2 produced (kilowatt hours x .4) Price Popularity (# of units sold in the U.S.) Product availability

Once students have their product names, they're ready to begin their real or virtual field trip. Visit a home appliance store, car dealership, etc. to find out the rest of the information listed in the spreadsheet. Students should ask the salespeople which items are the best sellers. An alternative to the actual field trip would be to conduct this research using consumer Web sites or newspaper ads. Note - if you choose to do an online shopping trip, you may want to print out the pages from the stores listed below instead of having students visit e-commerce sites. You may also want to look for Web sites of stores in your areas, instead of using the links provided below.

Once students collect the data, ask them if they can see any trends forming. Is there any relationship between cost, energy efficiency, and popularity? Students may be able to determine this more easily by creating graphs of their information. Excel provides an excellent way to view the same data in multiple graph/chart formats.

Research student energy consumption

For a few days, have students keep an energy diary of appliances used, hours and watts of electric lights used, and the number of miles they ride in cars or buses. Then have them find all the possible ways they can reduce their energy usage. Once complete, ask students to modify their activities accordingly, while continuing to note in their diary the amount of energy they saved.

Research public behavior

Since students will be designing an energy conservation project for the public, they'll need to find out how much their audience knows about the topic already. Have them design a survey. Begin by having groups create a list of 5 questions, then have the class select the best questions from each. Create either a paper or online survey (see teacher tool resources below for a listing of sites that do this for free), and disseminate to a small sampling of people. Evaluate the results to see if the questions are effective in getting the information you need, revise the survey accordingly, and disseminate to the full, targeted audience. Use e-mail (listservs), school announcements, or handouts to distribute the surveys.


Based upon your research on carbon dioxide, global warming, and consumer knowledge and information, create a hypothesis for this question: What's the most effective way to get people in our community to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to help prevent global warming? Groups of students can work together to think of ways to reduce emissions, and share their results with the rest of the class to create a complete list.

Students may want to have community members keep their own energy diaries, or start carpool campaigns. Another alternative is to start a tree planting campaign. Contact the American Forestry Association's "Global Releaf" program for ideas-you'll need to find an appropriate spot for planting, and you should choose a type of tree that can thrive in your area without much care.

Resources for step 2

Materials needed

  • For the survey - one computer with access to the Internet or MS Word and a copier to type up and distribute the surveys
  • For the Consumer Products chart - Excel or chart paper; access to the Internet or consumer products circulars

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

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Step 3 - Plan Experiment and Gather DataMore information about this step

In this step, students will collect data that tests the hypothesis made in step 2 by devising a specific plan of action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Based on the information gathered from surveys, research findings, and their own energy diaries, have students tailor a plan that will help them get their community to use the energy reduction plans created in their step 2 - prediction.

Next, have students plan how they will get their community to participate. How will they advertise the plan? They may want to use the research collected in step 2 to put together a public service announcement. They could go door to door with flyers, or do an e-mail or fax blitz. The listervs may come in handy for this as well. Have students ask an expert for advice, and visit the National Wildlife Federation: Take Action page for more tips on planning their campaigns.

Before the campaign begins, students need to devise a way to measure how energy usage in their audience changed after enacting the usage measures. Some suggestions are: administer a survey about current energy usages, or have participants conduct an energy audit or keep pre-campaign energy diaries.

Resources for step 3

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet
  • Excel (optional)
  • For your wetland - depending on the type of wetland you choose to build (see relevant Web sites for details), some combination of the following: plants with roots or plant seeds native to your area, spades or shovels, plastic lining, large stones and bricks, pieces of carpet or rags, hay or straw, gravel, sand, peat

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark these Web sites for student research

  • National Wildlife Federation: Take Action
    This site gives great advice on how to write to local media, write press releases, plan campaigns, and more.

  • Ask a Department of Energy Expert
    This site allows you to ask a question of a D.O.E. expert. Students may want to use this to get information about resources they can pass on to the public. It does ask for personal information, so teachers may want to type in the questions themselves.

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Step 4 - Analyze the Data and Make a Conclusion  More information about this step

Have the entire class compile the records from their energy-saving campaigns and put the results into a chart that shows the following information. Then discuss.

  • How much energy was the community using before the campaign began?

  • How much energy did the community save as a result of the campaign?

  • How much carbon dioxide emission was reduced?

  • If all the participants continue to save the same amount of energy for the next year, what will the total energy and emissions savings be?

Based on this data, have students identify which aspects of their campaign worked or failed. Ask them what they could have done to improve their campaigns.

Resources for step 4

Materials needed

  • Access to the Internet
  • Excel (optional)

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Step 5 - Take Action

Write up a one-page tip sheet that includes your best day-to-day energy-saving ideas and advice. Send the tip sheet out to local media, government, business leaders, and other schools to participate in the your campaign's most successful energy-saving strategy. In your invitation, use your research to explain the problem of global warming and how it impacts your local ecosystem. Make sure to include an estimate of how much your energy-saving ideas will reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Resources for step 5

Bookmark this Web site for student research

  • National Wildlife Federation: Take Action
    This site gives great advice on how to write to local media, write press releases, plan campaigns, and more.

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Step 6 - Assessment

Compile all the documents, interviews, data, etc. you created during your project and turn them into a narrative of your project. Also add a reflection piece that states what it felt like to undertake this project. What was the most important lesson learned? Gather all these materials and build a Web site, scrapbook, or series of illustrated articles about this project to share with others. Send us your Web project and we'll post it on the WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT Web site!

If possible, check back with your classmates a year later to see how you all are continuing to conserve energy and make a difference to prevent global warming! Send us your results with a Web site update.

Resources for step 6

Teacher tool Web sites

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