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How do we know about climate change?

Celebrating Earth Day 2023, this live lesson takes an in-depth look at how we know about climate change. It is an agreed fact by the science community that the climate is changing rapidly and that this is being driven by increased levels in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a result of fossil fuel combustion.

In this live lesson, working with the Convex Seascape Survey team, we will examine how we know about past climate change, in the context that we only have consistent atmospheric carbon data since 1958. Classes will also learn about the use of climate proxies and ice cores. The lesson will then examine how scientists predict future climate change.

Tuesday 18 Apr 2023
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  • 45 mins
  • Ages 11-16 / KS3 / GCSE
Learning objectives
  • Understand the evidence for changes in past climate
  • Learn how human activity is driving climate change
  • Discover how scientists predict future changes in climate

This is a standalone lesson to celebrate Earth Day 2023. No specific preparation is needed but teachers and students may wish to review prior learning on climate change.

There are two student sheets to support the live learning to print out and share with students.

If you have never joined a live lesson before, visit the support centre where you can find a range of technical and educational information.

Questions generated by your class can be submitted via the interaction app that will appear on this lesson page once you have booked the lesson.

Lesson steps

1. Introduction (5 minutes)

We welcome classes to this live lesson for Earth Day 2023, meeting our speakers. This is also a chance to go over the learning objectives for the lesson and cover digital housekeeping.

2. Who has heard of climate change? (5 minutes)

In this section of the live lesson, we will examine a series of graphs and describe how they show the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature. These graphs will cover past and future climate, as well as more recent data from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

3. How do we know about past climate? (10 mins)

To learn about both climate and the factors affecting it over the past 100,000s of years, scientists cannot rely on direct observation. In this section of the lesson, we will work together with classes to see what ice cores and other clues can tell us about climate in the past.

4. How can we predict future climate? (10 mins)

Classes may have heard about the need to keep carbon emissions at a level that limits global heating to a 1.5-degree Celsius rise. We will examine how the computer models have been developed that allow us to consider future climate scenarios and ask students to think which scenarios they think are the most probable and preferable.

5. Q&A (15 minutes)

This is a chance for students to ask any questions they may have about climate science and the methods used to understand past and future changes.

Further ideas

There are further resources on the carbon cycle related to this lesson, both a full lesson, and an interactive diagram.

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