Project-based Learning: Global Warming


Investigative projects involving analysis of scientific data can be real stimuli for students to appreciate the true nature of science (D’Avanzo and McNeal, 1997). The example we do here will allow you to evaluate the validity of the conclusions expressed in the popular press about a high-profile scientific topic, and it will also help you focus on how projects can address the learning goals you have for your students.

Global warming is a "hot topic" in the media and in political circles. We want you to examine two kinds of real data:

Instrumental global mean annual temperatures

A related environmental indicator, either

Satellite lower troposphere mean annual temperatures , or

Mean annual CO2, or

Mean annual solar irradiance, or

Annual volcanic index.

Obtain the data sets from the STEMTEC "Global Warming Project" web site

These are text files that can be imported into an Excel spreadsheet.

Plot the data as time-series graphs.

If you have good familiarity with Excel, you may want to do some statistical analyses of the data, such as smoothing or correlation between the two sets.

From your examination of the data sets, elaborate on the following questions;

Is global warming occurring?

Are global temperature changes a result of human activity?

How do the environmental data you examined compare to the instrumental temperature record?

Should there be a physical connection between the environmental data and the temperature record?

Your graphs and interpretation of the data will form the basis for your poster presentation.

Reference: D’Avanzo , C., and McNeal, A.P., 1997, Research for all students: structuring investigation into first-year courses. In McNeal, A.P. and D’Avanzo, C., editors, Student-Active Science: Models of Innovation in College Science Teaching, Saunders, p. 279-300.

Before the Project

Identify several learning goals, other than content knowledge, that you have for your students.

Look at the National Science Teaching Standards A to E (summary attached). Which of your learning goals are part of these standards?

Are there other goals in the Standards you would like to add to your initial list?


After the Project

Which of your learning goals are addressed by project-based learning?

Which aspects of the National Science Teaching Standards are addressed by project-based learning?


Incorporate the answers to these last two questions into your poster.



Science Teaching Standards (Summary)

Teaching Standard A: Teachers of science plan an inquiry-based science program for their students

Teaching Standard B: Teachers of science guide and facilitate learning

Teaching Standard C: Teachers of science engage in ongoing assessment of their teaching and of student learning.

Teaching Standard D: Teachers of science design and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space and resources needed for learning science.

Teaching Standard E: Teachers of science develop communities of science learners that reflect the intellectual rigor of scientific inquiry and the attitudes and social values conducive to science learning.

Teaching Standard F: Teachers of science actively participate in the ongoing planning and development of the school science program.

Reference: National Research Council, 1996, National Science Education Standards, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 262 p.