pHET, TGEM & The Greenhouse Effect

With the advent of increasingly new technology, scientific facts and concepts can now be produced visually on digital screens.  This enables student misconceptions to be clarified and effective learning to be encouraged.  One avenue of learning in which interactive animations and simulations are utilized to promote science learning is pHET simulations.  In their research, Finkelstein, Perkins, Adams, Kohl, and Podolefsky (2005) state that students who learned material through computer simulations outperformed on conceptual questions when compared to students who used real equipment.  They further argue that while simulations might not necessarily promote conceptual learning, there is some validity to enhance student learning through computer simulations under the correct guidance, facilitation and application.

For my lesson plan, I have chosen a pHET Greenhouse Effect simulation available at:

https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/greenhouse.  It can be used in the earth science unit of Science 10.  The lesson was created with the T-GEM in mind, which briefly involves three levels of instructional strategies (Khan, 2007): compiling information and generating a relationship, evaluating the relationship, and modifying the relationship.

The Simulation Activity:

Preliminary Understanding:

1. Click on the “Adjustable Conditions” button and set the Green House Gas concentration to zero. Turn off all photons and set the temperature to Celsius.
2. What do the yellow and red particles represent and where do they come from?
3. Why might the red particles be heading out to space?
4. What is the minimum temperature?

During the Ice Age:

1. Click the “Ice Age” button and record the minimum temperature.
2. Record: [CO2]
3. Follow a red particle and observe how it behaves. Repeat for a different particle at different locations. Summarize your findings. Repeat with the yellow particle.
4. How do the yellow and red particles behaviours compare?

Discuss similarities and differences.

1. What is the temperature now? How does this compare to the temperature you measured when no green house gases existed? What can you conclude about the effect of green house gases on the Earth’s temperature? Is this a good or bad thing? Explain.
2. What happens to the yellow and red particles when clouds are introduced?
3. What happens to the temperature when clouds are introduced? Explain why you think this occurs.

During 1750:

1. Click the “Ice Age” button and record the minimum temperature.
2. Record: [CO2], [CH4], [N2O]
3. How do these amounts compare to those at the time of the Ice Age?
4. Predict what you think is happening presently.

The Present:

1. Click the “Present” button and record the minimum temperature.
2. Record: [CO2], [CH4], [N2O]
3. How do these amounts compare to those at the time of the Ice Age and 1750?
5. What would happen if the green house gas concentration increased? Adjust the GHG level to lots and observe. Record your observations.
6. What factors might also influence this overall greenhouse effect?

References:

Finkelstein, N.D., Perkins, K.K., Adams, W., Kohl, P., & Podolefsky, N. (2005). When learning about the real world is better done virtually: A study of substituting computer simulations for laboratory equipment. Physics Education Research,1(1), 1-8.

Khan, S. (2007). Model-based inquiries in chemistry. Science Education, 91(6), 877-905.

1. Gloria Ma says:

Hi Darren,

I enjoyed reading your lesson outline. I believe that your lesson will allow the concept of greenhouse gases to be visualized by students as this is a concept that cannot be tangibly seen. You also had your students record observations which allows them to recall what they noticed through the exploration of this simulation.

2. daniel bosse says:

Hi Darren,

I have had the opportunity to test some of these out with students recently and am definitely finding that the students that engage with the simulations drastically out preform their peers who simply study and regurgitate. They are much more prepared to work through unusual situations that are not predefined in their text.

-Dan

3. catherine sverko says:

Hi Darren,
I really appreciate how detailed your simulation lesson was. I agree that the students using the simulations would gain more insight than those just reading and writing about a concept. I was wondering how you might assess (or would you) assess the students work on this simulation?Would you have them interpret their observations to make generalizations? Would you have the students record and explain using paper and pencil or would you maybe try to use some technology like google docs so students could compare their results with others either in their own group or with other groups?

Is there a way for you to know if they made incorrect assumptions? For example with this question:
Discuss similarities and differences.

What is the temperature now? How does this compare to the temperature you measured when no green house gasses existed? What can you conclude about the effect of green house gasses on the Earth’s temperature? Is this a good or bad thing? Explain.

Always interested in how others might assess.
Thanks, Catherine

4. darren low says:

Hi Catherine,

When I’ve used similar activities in the past, I don’t formally assess them on the specific simulation. We have definitely reviewed the material as a class and this can take different forms – as you mentioned paper/pencil or other ways of sharing answers. Depending on the simulation, I might make small groups responsible for various portions of the simulation and ‘teach’ the class. This way, we can address any misconceptions or incorrect assumptions as an entire class. I like the idea of a Google docs for the class but sometimes find it difficult to access the laptops for the class to use, but definitely think it’s worth trying out!

5. mary sikkes says:

Hi Darren,

I really enjoyed your lesson plan, especially the exploration of greenhouse gases at varying time periods to allow for visual comparison. As you have pointed out, the simulations will allow students to investigate greenhouse gases and impacts in a more interactive environment, as they receive immediate feedback when they change variables and learn through experience rather than simple looking at images in a textbook. I really liked the fact that your lesson asks for students to consider comparisons and asks for predictions based on their findings.
One question I have is how you will have students reflect back on all of the information they have collected and if you will have them form hypotheses based on all of this information (so incorporating data from all time periods explored) or not?

Thank you for sharing!
Mary

1. darren low says:

Hi Mary,

Typically, we would review and/or summarize the relevant information the next day as a class discussion. At this time we would also discuss or hypothesize what would happen as a result.