Climate Change through WISE, PhET, and Climate Time Machine

Misconception: Climate Change cannot be stopped and that it has limited effects on people and society.

Targeted grade group: Grade 7

Premise: Given that climate change is a growing concern and a current global problem frequently discussed in the media, it is important students become educated and empowered citizens about this issue.

Step 1: Assess students’ prior knowledge about climate change

Research: Shepardson, Niyogi, Choi et al. (2011) conducted a study to discover the conceptions secondary students have about global warming and climate change. Their research corroborated with previous research; there were multiple misconceptions students had about these two topics. Students showed confusion about the greenhouse effect, such as the kind of radiation it involves (Shepardson et al., 2011). As well, students also believed global warming was caused by greenhouse gases and air pollution in general (Shepardson et al., 2011). More importantly, students indicated that the negative effects of global warming and climate change will not have a significant impact on them or society (Shepardson et al., 2011). Specifically, they have the belief that humans will create new technologies or find ways to overcome these negative environmental changes (Shepardson et al., 2011). Moreover, students solutions to minimizing the effects of climate change and global warming include: using the car less, limiting pollution and reducing factories (Shepardson et al., 2011).

Activity: Shepardson et al. (2011) utilized a global warming and climate change assessment instrument where students completed open ended questions and “draw-and-explain” items to allow assessors to analyze the content of responses. This is an effective method to implement because I can visualize my students’ understanding of climate change in terms of accuracy, depth and breadth. I would likely begin with asking them what they think climate change or global warming means and to draw a picture of how they believe it works. An open-ended question I would include from the article was based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that asks students to explain how global warming might affect oceans, weather, plants, animals, people and society (Shepardson et al., 2011).

Step 2: Have students explore Climate Time Machine

The Climate Time Machine (hyperlink) was created by NASA to visualize the time lapse of the effects of climate change on sea ice, sea level, carbon dioxide and global temperature. It allows students to “see” the what climate change is. This supports the Scaffolded Knowledge Integration Framework principle of “making thinking visible” (Linn, Clark, & Slotta, 2003). Visualizations like the Climate Time Machine helps students develop connections to concepts (Linn, Clark, & Slotta, 2003). The effects of climate change are not easily visualized by students but using this digital visualization tool, students can better understand what climate change looks like over time.

Activity: I would have my students get into small groups of two or three and to “play around” with the dials of each climate indicator to see how the Earth has been impacted by climate change. They will then discuss aspects they have noticed and things they have learned.

Step 3: Have students explore PhET simulations on glaciers and the greenhouse effect

PhET offers two simulations related to climate change for students to explore. Finkelstein, Perkins, Adams, Kohl, and Podolefsky (2005) found that in inquiry-based units, students exploring simulations learned more content than students using actual lab equipment. That is, students who used computer simulations showed more understanding about circuits in terms of building and writing about them (Finkelstein et al., 2005).

Activity:  The first simulation is called Glaciers ( and students can adjust with mountain snowfall and temperature to see the change in size of glaciers. They will also have opportunities to measure different parameters of a glacier. Students will be asked to reflect in their journals of how this activity is connected to climate change and to develop linkages of how this can affect the oceans, and habitats of living organisms. The second simulation is The Greenhouse Effect ( and students get to alter gas concentration, cloud presence, and explore the temperature of the atmosphere. Students will build an understanding of what the greenhouse effect is and why greenhouse gases affect temperature. In a class discussion, students will contribute ideas to create a class-wide conception of the greenhouse effect, with the teacher facilitating understanding.

Step 4: Redesign WISE project catered to students’ conceptions and misconceptions about climate change

A Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE) project will be adapted and modified to address students’ understanding about climate change. WISE is founded on the scaffolded knowledge integration perspective that has four principles of making student thinking visible, making science accessible, creating opportunities for peer learning and encouraging continuous learning (Linn, Clark, & Slotta, 2003). The specific WISE project I would modify is “What Impacts Global Climate Change?”. It explores the greenhouse effect and has opportunities for empowering students in effective ways to alleviate climate change. However, there is a significant amount of time spent discussing solar radiation and I would like my students to explore other types of radiation and furthermore, the ways actions in everyday life that contribute to global warming.

Step 5: Assess students’ progress

Linn, Clark, & Slotta (2003) emphasize WISE through scaffolding knowledge integration framework as a tool to make student thinking visible. This relates to the assessment of student learning in the process of the unit about climate change. Through discussions, journals and the WISE platform (e.g. it tracks student responses), educators will have a range of assessment methods to explore how student thinking changes over time.


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.

Linn, M., Clark, D., & Slotta, J. (2003). Wise design for knowledge integration. Science Education, 87(4), 517-538.

Shepardson, D.P., Niyogi, D., Choi, S. et al. Climatic Change (2011) 104: 481. doi:10.1007/s10584-009-9786-9


  1. Hi Gloria,

    Dan Shepardson et al (2011)’s work was good to consult at the outset of designing this lesson, so as to locate additional evidence about children’s common conceptions on this topic in our curriculum. He also co-authored an interesting paper here: Shepardson, D.P., Wee, B., Priddy, M., & Harbor, J. (2007). Students’ mental models of the environment. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(2), 327-348.

    The grade 7 lesson well-integrates a number of simulations of change to the climate over time, using the time lapsed images in Time Machine NASA, Phet’s simulations, and WISE. Thank you for this lesson integrating all three. A few questions for the class on the use of the technology that may be applied or reflected in some way with their TELEs too:

    Time Machine. What forms of guiding strategies might one anticipate needing for your group as the students move the dials in the time machine and discuss the changes in groups?

    PhET Glacier and Greenhouse Simulation. The activity where students will be asked to reflect in their journals of how this activity is connected to climate change and to develop linkages of how this can affect the oceans, and habitats of living organisms contains specificity and cues on what students should reflect upon. These cues offer a guiding strategy for students to begin to make some abstractions about what they are observing and what larger rules are being represented.

    The identification of variables to explore is a good move for students and encourages them to “think before they click.” What kind of scaffolding techniques might be employed for the systematic exploration of the Greenhouse simulation here: The second simulation is The Greenhouse Effect ( and students get to alter gas concentration, cloud presence, and explore the temperature of the atmosphere.

    WISE project What Impacts Global Climate Change? Modifying this project will be an example of your customization of the TELE further to fit with your objectives. In terms of the affordances of this technology, what kinds of affordances of WISE do you see as relevant or important for your TELE? Regarding SKI principles, in comparison with the other technologies, does the use of the modified project emphasize one or several of these principles?

    I really like how your plan encourages us to think about how to assess student learning about climate change and the making thinking visible principle of SKI.

    Gloria, thank you for this enriched lesson with technology. Class, feel free to respond and reflect upon these questions as you also think about the design of your TELEs.


    1. Hi Samia,

      Thank you for your post. I appreciate the questions you have posed.

      The Climate Time Machine will require the teacher to remind students of what they notice and what these changes could mean for plants, animals, habitats and humans. They are encouraged to also consider how they have noticed these changes in some way (e.g. persistent snowstorms, etc.).

      Students would probably need a demonstration of how to utilize the different tools on the Greenhouse effect PhET. I would also have them work in peers for peer scaffolding.

      WISE has affordances that are relevant to my TELE because it can make student learning visible as the teacher can track student responses. Through these responses I can analyze their conceptions about the topic of climate change and make notes of whether misconceptions still exist.

  2. Having oral, written, and digital assessment information would assist the teacher in gathering valuable quantitative and qualitative feedback from students will varying learning styles. Providing students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning reinforces the idea that learning is an ongoing process and that it is focused on growth and improvement. Your activity sequence sounds interesting!

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