Classroom/ Laboratory Activity: Polynomial Differentiation Using Temperature Data

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A classroom/ laboratory activity titled, ‘Global Average Temperature’ from Sustainability Math by Thomas J. Pfaff, Ithaca College, USA, to teach derivatives and polynomial differentiation using global average temperature data. This classroom/laboratory activity uses NASA’s data of  global annual mean surface air temperature from 1950 to 2018. 

This data is provided in an Excel spreadsheet in the activity. It also includes a Word document with detailed instructions.  It further includes questions that you may wish to use in your classroom to explain mathematical functions and methods and to initiate a discussion on the increase in global annual mean surface temperature due to anthropogenically forced global warming.

Students will learn about derivatives and differentiation. They will also understand function composition and tangent line problems. They will further learn how to apply polynomial differentiation to predict changes in global average temperatures from a given dataset.

Use this tool to help your students find answers to:

  1. What are derivatives and tangent line equations?
  2. Using an example, describe polynomial differentiation.
  3. What is the rate of change of global average temperatures?
  4. Predict the global average temperatures for 2030, 2050, and 2100.

About the Tool

Tool NameGlobal Average Temperature
DisciplineMathematic and Statistics 
Topic(s) in DisciplineDerivatives, Tangent Lines, Differentiation, Differentiation Rules, Function Composition, Polynomial Differentiation
Climate TopicClimate and the Atmosphere, Climate Variability Record
Type of toolClassroom/Laboratory Activity
Grade LevelHigh School, Undergraduate
Developed byThomas J. Pfaff
Hosted atSustainability Math 
AccessOnline, Offline
Computer SkillsBasic
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