14 August 2013

Bits and pieces

Somehow, even though I no longer am in school, or have kids of my own who are, I'm still pretty distracted from the net around back to school time.  Maybe it's my nieces and their back to school time?

Anyhow, many things going on, though you couldn't tell from the blog here.  And some even have school connections.  One part is, I've been talking to a middle school science teacher, J, about ideas, J's and mine, for grades 6-8.  Of course I mentioned my water surface temperature project.  Also some more specific ones.

I've also been thinking of blogging some experiments that people and classes could do about the earth and eventually climate.  Start with determining the size of the earth following Eratosthenes method, earth's rotation rate (which is not 24 hours per day), and the sun's motion (which also isn't 24 hours per day). What ideas do you have?

Thursday and Friday, I'll be at ScienceOnline Climate, in Washington DC.  It's also on twitter #ScioClimate and I've been more on twitter myself lately (@rgrumbine).  A post relating to that is Liz Neely's What the Science Tells us about Trust in Science.  (Problems there with comment section, so my brilliant comment vanished in to the ether.)  Via twitter, @dougmcneal started collecting observations on why people might distrust a climate scientist.  I've added in a few I've encountered first hand.  I'll suggest you add yours -- that you feel yourself, or that someone has said directly to you.


j said...

curriculum wise, one thing i've always thought would be fascinating to explore with kids is the idea of cycles - we know that climate has always changed - and then have them work with data to examine the rate of change. we, as adults, know that climate change exists and is happening faster due to human activity... but if kids could work with data and evidence, i believe it would be very powerful for them to come to their own conclusions.

another area where kids seem to get 'stuck' with climate change is the impact of one degree - to them the idea that climate change is by a degree here or a degree there doesn't really seem like a big deal. but studying the effects of a 1-5 degree change through models or simulations could be very powerful.

Robert Grumbine said...

I'll keep working on the cycles part, but I've gotten an idea of a game-ish way to illustrate the effects of the temperature change.

0) Each student has a species they're interested in, and starts with a happy, healthy population (species being well-adapted to the preindustrial climate).

1) Take 4 six sided dice, roll them, and add them up. The mean will be 14 (over the long haul) and standard deviation is 3. 14 (not a coincidence) is the global mean temperature in C, give or take a little. 3, as degrees, is too large to be the real standard deviation of temperature (it's more like 0.1 K, but dividing by 30 doesn't strike me as helpful for the purpose. So the later rules will compensate.)

2) Also, critters and veggies are more sensitive to sustained temperatures above what they're used to than temperatures colder than usual. (A good point to have them research.) So, temperatures of 17 or above (the dice sum to 17 or above) give their species a hard time. Temperatures of 8 or below (has to be twice as cold for hard times as warm) also give the species a hard time.

3) 3 consecutive bad years in the game kill off their species (whether it's too cold or too warm).

A) Start each student off with their species of interest in a normal climate.
B) They roll the dice, add them up, and see if the year is bad.
C) Three consecutive strikes and the species is out.
D) Go through a number of years, not so many as to try everybody's patience, but at least, say, 40. (Which might be challenging itself, but much shorter than this is too little for a sense of climate to develop.)

E) Now repeat with all sums increased by 1 (degree warming), by 2, ...
F) What happened to the number of extinctions?

E') Do the same with 1 degree cooling, 2 degrees.
F') What happens here?

Additional options:
* This could all be done on a spreadsheet, such as OpenOffice. Let each die be a cell, = 1 + 5*rand()
This will permit much larger number of rounds to be done very quickly, but doesn't engage the students as much (I expect). After doing one series of experiments by hand, maybe go by spreadsheet?

* Rather than 3 strikes and out, they could track populations. Definitely want a spreadsheet here. I'm not sure offhand how to write the rules for this just yet, but the idea is that in a normal climate, in the long run, the population is more or less stable. My offhand guess: if temperature is between, but not including, 8 and 17, the next generation is 10% larger. If it's 17-20 (inclusive), the next generation is half the size, if 6-8, also half the size. 4 or 5 takes you to 1/4th the size, as does 21-24.
25 or higher is immediate extinction, as is 3 or lower, for the changed climate simulations.

Lacking, at this point, is a chance for the students to apply some strategy. For a good game, that is necessary. On the other hand, science is partly about observation, so observing what happens to their species is a reasonable activity.

The strategy, I'll suggest, should involve some tradeoff between limiting climate change (the number added to the sum of dice) and something else. Not sure how to treat this one.

Having posted this, I'll invite everybody to suggest changes, elaborations, and so forth.

j said...

i really like this idea - consider it added to the repertoire! one area that i'd elaborate on would be introducing manipulatives for the kids... while i do have some that could go right to a spreadsheet and understand what's happening (heck, they could probably code and market it as a game) i have quite a few who would need visual representations.

one way i envision this is to choose an ecosystem or biome as a class, then research the relative species populations (producers, consumers, etc) and determine a simplified food web. students would choose which species they want to represent, then make the appropriate number of paper models (at this point i should mention an unlimited time frame, for planning purposes).

students could then create a large, visual food web with their manipulatives, then start rolling dice to see what happens.

i think of the above as a starting place - teaching kids games and rules of games takes awhile. that being said, components could be introduced throughout the year - start with a spreadsheet, and work up towards natural selection and climate change.

one of the biggest strengths of this game is that it incorporates model creation, while also giving kids some tangible representation of what's happening as the temperature changes.