Teacher ideas: explaining the greenhouse effect

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What you need

Access to the internet and the Australian Greenhouse Calculator

Teaching focus

Provide an opportunity for students to explain what they know about the greenhouse effect.

What to do

Review and update ideas developed though concept maps and the KWHL chart or other methods used to record students' ideas about climate change. In particular, focus on what ideas and concepts students have used to describe the greenhouse effect.

Carry out a simple presentation to demonstrate the thickness of the Earth's atmosphere. For example, cut an apple in half to show the relative size of the atmosphere compared to the Earth. Explain to the students that the apple skin represents the atmosphere and the rest of the apple is the Earth.

Watch the animations Greenhouse and Ozone layer. Have students illustrate their interpretation of the greenhouse effect and the enhanced greenhouse effect. The animations provide a useful model to describe the layers of the atmosphere and greenhouse effect.

Provide students with access to the Research centre on the Australian Greenhouse Calculator website. The sections 'Climate change' and 'Understanding climate' include an explanation of the greenhouse effect and the enhanced greenhouse effect.

Set up an investigation to model the greenhouse effect. Explain that a greenhouse is a building usually made of glass where plants are grown. The building allows the air inside to warm and reduces the amount of heat escaping.

Provide safe access to a car parked in the sun away from any car traffic. Set up data logging equipment and a temperature probe or digital thermometer to measure the interior temperature of the car. Also set up a thermometer in the shade to measure air temperature.

Have students record the temperature at various intervals or download the data from the data logging equipment for use as a class. Students present their findings using a spreadsheet and graphing function or draw a graph of the data.

Explain the difference in air temperature between the two sites. Have students explain how the car can be used as a simple model to demonstrate how the atmosphere works.