As a high school or undergraduate teacher of Chemistry or Earth Sciences, you can use this set of computer-based tools to help you in teaching atomic number, mass number, isotopes and isotopic ratios, the use of isotopic ratios to calculate temperature, and the use of isotopic composition to recreate past temperatures and climate.
This lesson plan allows students to understand isotopes, isotopic ratios, the relationship between isotopic compositions and temperature, and how isotopic compositions are used to recreate past temperature and climate.
Thus, the use of this toolkit allows you to integrate the teaching of a climate science topic with a core topic in Chemistry or Earth Sciences.

Vostok Ice Core Temperature and CO2

Questions

Use this lesson plan to help your students find answers to:

  • 1. What is an isotope?
  • 2. What is the relationship between isotopic compositions and temperature?
  • 3. How can you use oxygen isotope data in an ice core to determine temperature?
  • 4. How can you use isotopic compositions to reconstruct past climate?

About Lesson Plan

Grade Level High School, Undergraduate
Discipline Chemistry, Earth Sciences
Topic(s) in Discipline • Atomic Number, Mass Number
• Isotopes and Isotopic Ratios
•  How isotopic ratios are used to calculate temperature
• How isotopic composition is used to recreate past temperatures and climate
Climate Topic Climate and the Cryosphere, Climate Variability Record
Location Global
Languages English (Simulation tool available in multiple languages)
Access Online, Offline
Approximate Time Required 130-150 min

Contents 

Micro-lecture (video) (~10 min) A micro-lecture that introduces the concepts of atomic number, mass number, and isotopes.
https://www.khanacademy.org/science/chemistry/atomic-structure-and-properties/introduction-to-the-atom/v/atomic-number-mass-number-and-isotopes
Reading (20-30 min) A reading about isotopic ratios, the relationship between isotopic compositions and temperature, and how isotopic compositions are used to recreate past temperature and climate.
https://www.seas.harvard.edu/climate/eli/research/equable/isotope.html
Classroom/ Laboratory activity (~ 90 min) A classroom/laboratory activity to recreate the climate of the last 500,000 years approximately using oxygen and hydrogen isotopic compositions of ice cores from Antarctica.
University of Washington Program on Climate Change: Laboratory Activity, From Isotopes to Temperature (Spruce Schoenemann, UW Earth and Space Sciences)
https://pcc.uw.edu/education/classroom-resources/climate-teaching-modules/uwhs-atms-211-from-isotopes-to-temperature-influences-of-orbital-forcing-on-ice-core-records/
Here is a step-by-step guide to using this lesson plan in the classroom/laboratory. We have suggested these steps as a possible plan of action. You may customize the lesson plan according to your preferences and requirements.
1.Introduce the topic through a micro-lecture (video)
  • • Discuss the components of an atom.
  • • Play the micro-lecture (video), “Atomic number, mass number, and isotopes”, to introduce the concepts of atomic number, mass number, and isotopes. The video will help students understand the definitions of the terms through examples of hydrogen, carbon, and uranium isotopes.
  • • The video, “Atomic number, mass number, and isotopes” from Khan Academy is available at https://www.khanacademy.org/science/chemistry/atomic-structure-and-properties/introduction-to-the-atom/v/atomic-number-mass-number-and-isotopes
  • • Note: For a more detailed exploration of isotopes, atomic mass, and methods to calculate the average atomic mass, you may use the PhET simulation tool and associated activity listed in the Additional Resources section of this lesson plan. This activity will enable your students to calculate the average atomic mass of sample mixtures of isotopes by using various methods.
2. Discuss using an online reading
  • Next, read and discuss “Isotope Analysis” from Harvard University to introduce the occurrence and distribution of oxygen isotopes. Further, the reading will help your students understand isotopic ratios, the relationship between isotopic compositions and temperature, and how scientists can use isotopic compositions to recreate past temperature and climate.
  • The reading, “Isotope Analysis” from Harvard University is available at https://www.seas.harvard.edu/climate/eli/research/equable/isotope.html
3. Conduct an activity using an interactive visualization Now, explore the relationship between isotopic compositions and climate through a hands-on classroom/laboratory activity, “From Isotopes to Temperature”, created by Spruce Schoenemann, UW Earth and Space Sciences: In this activity, your students will analyze isotopic compositions of ice core data from Antarctica to infer past temperatures and climate. Students will plot graphs in MS Excel to perform data analysis and interpretation.