From Melting Ice Caps to a Global Warming Inquiry

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Here, M wears a hat she made with a word bubble that says, “Stop Polluting!” – all her idea! She, along with many of her peers, have become passionate environmentalists over the past month. Read more to find out why!

From Melting Ice Caps to a Global Warming Inquiry

In my last post, Polar Learning Flourishes!, I shared our learning experiences throughout our Polar Inquiry, which had taken place during the winter months. One finding that intrigued the children, was that the ice caps were melting. We talked about what the possibility of melted ice caps would mean for the animals, people and the land in these regions and concluded that polar animals would need to either adapt to the new conditions or they could die off. We were sad to think that the Inuit and other people living in the Arctic would be affected negatively in various ways as well (e.g., the animals they used to hunt could be extinct, their traditions would be changed, etc.). I could tell by the children’s keen interest in this topic that I had to plan some interactive lessons and learning experiences to help the children better understand the situation. And so began our month-long investigation on Global Warming…

“What Makes Global Warming?” 

The topic of Global Warming may, at first, seem better suited to an older class of students. However, I was determined to embrace the children’s interests and questions about the melting ice caps and to teach them as well as guide them through to a understanding that was age-appropriate but also time-appropriate. Today, the concern of Global Warming is heard everywhere in the news, the media and in every day conversation. This topic, therefore, is pertinent to the future of humanity and since children are, in many ways, the directors of our future, they  photo IMG_0912-1w_zpscwioyu6x.jpgneed to begin to develop an awareness so that they can grow up spreading the word and doing their part to diminish harm on our planet.

While I didn’t want the children to become frightened by the subject, I also didn’t want to sugar coat it too much. Instead, I went in with a child-centered approach that focused on the necessity of making a positive difference and turning things around.

Throughout our investigations, we learned that Global Warming is caused by both the Greenhouse Effect and the holes in the Ozone Layer. One approach I used often was to draw quick diagrams live for the children while they watched (see picture to the left). I made it interactive and explained the components as I drew them, telling it like a story so as to capture their attentions and curiosities. From my experience, children love watching someone draw so this was one way I was able to keep them engaged and enhance their understandings.

Saturating the Environment with Resources

One of my main goals at the start of any inquiry, is to saturate the learning environment with resources that encourage the children to explore and support their new understandings.

Books We Read:

Literature with excellent story-lines and rich pictures are my first focus. Have a look at some of the great books we read and looked at during our inquiry!

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Only a few – We also had our books shelf cart filled!

Click images for Amazon links to some of our favourites:













Video Clips We Watched:

We utilized video clips often since Global Warming is a subject matter that is hard to explore directly. Below, I’ve linked a few of the videos clips we watched to form our understandings of the Greenhouse Effect and the holes in the Ozone Layer and these phenomena contribute to Global Warming.

Ozzy Ozone

One extremely well-done video that we watched that had a complete story-line was a short children’s film by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called, Ozzy Ozone. In this story, an Ozone Layer molecule named, Ozzy travels atop of Alberta the Albatross to explore exactly what is attacking the Ozone Layer (evil CFCs) to let in harmful UV rays and how children can help. For more Ozzy Ozone fun, visit !

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Some amazing drawings by two children after watching Ozzy Ozone!

Learning Goals & Key Kindings from the Resources

Some of the main understandings we aimed for the children to gain from exploring the books, videos and class discussions are included below. It is important to note that our expectations of the level of complexity of these understandings varies from student to student based on ability and development.

1. Global Warming is caused by the Greenhouse Effect – the trapping of the sun’s heat by a blanket of greenhouse gases or pollution (CO2) that’s being created around the earth due to human actions. 
Basic Understanding: A blanket of pollution is making the earth heat up. 

2. Greenhouse gases are caused by the burning of fossil fuels (such as gas and coal emissions).
Basic Understanding: Pollution is caused by factories, cars and other things that cause dirty smoke. 

3. Global Warming is also caused by the holes in the Ozone Layer letting in more UV rays.
Basic Understanding: Too much sun is also getting in because pollution is breaking the Ozone Layer (like in Ozzy Ozone).

4. The holes are caused by the release of CFCs (a bad chemical used in things like aerosol sprays and old refrigerators) into the atmosphere. CFCs cause air pollution and take many years to reach the Ozone so even though many people have stopped using them, we are still paying for the usage of CFCs from long ago.
Basic Understanding: The Ozone Layer is what protects us from getting too much sun and pollution is hurting it.

5. We need to help the earth by doing our part. We must: stop polluting, plant more trees (because they clean the air), recycle more and reduce emissions (use cars less, use less electricity, have less factories, stop the burning of garbage, etc.).
Basic Understanding: We need to stop polluting in order to help the Earth.

As mentioned, we understand that the children are all at different stages in their development and thus do not view these learning goals as absolute expectations for every single student. We differentiate expectations in our inquiries based on individual student abilities and interests, customizing experiences on a child to child basis. For some children, the detailed information within an inquiry, such as within our Global Warming Inquiry, are less important. For these children, we may simply want them to get out all of this, that our earth is affected by how we treat it and that we need to stop polluting (see the “Basic Understandings”). Like with all of our inquiries, we pull the Ontario curriculum expectations out of the learning experiences as the children engage in the content. These expectations are more standardized and the ones that we really concentrate on, ensuring that all students meet them.

Essentially, while the big ideas in an inquiry are seen as important, the process of involvement in the inquiries is more paramount than the content itself. While the children are involved in inquiries, they are meeting curriculum expectations and learning the basics of how to explore to find answers to their questions.

Creative Expressions of Learning

All of the children expressed their understanding or new learning of Global Warming through creativity at some point throughout the inquiry.
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R’s magnificent representation of the ozone layer effect. He shows the line of sugar cubes as ozone layer molecules, the lighter gems (CFCs) rising up towards the ozone layer and the darker gems (UV rays) coming down towards the ozone layer. Wow!

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Children who were inspired by R;s design, used melting beads to show similar ideas. Top Left: K makes the earth. Top Right: E explains the white outline of the heart as the ozone layer, the coloured beads in the middle as CFCs and the hole in the heart outline as a hole in the ozone layer. Bottom Left & Right: P creates a building releasing harmful smoke into the air.

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Children draw pictures of the sun’s heat coming into the earth and getting trapped by the greenhouse gases.

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Children love labeling their drawings and they couldn’t get over how easy it was to label “CO2” pollution!

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Top Left: V circles her earth to represent the Greenhouse Gases forming a blanket around our planet. Top Right: R draws the melting ice caps. Bottom Left & Right: L and A love drawing pictures of the UV rays coming towards earth like from the Ozzy Ozone movie!

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L is determined to label her picture to explain what is happening. We are so excited for her enthusiasm! Below, L draws the cracking ice in the Arctic. She explains that the polar bear and Inuit person are worried.

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Children show their learning in their Think Books. Just look at those understandings! The pictures speak a thousand words.

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These children show the holes in the ozone layer and the UV rays getting in.

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Check out the use of arrows to show the direction of the heat!

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These kinders may be little – but their conceptual understandings are huge!

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L draws a scene from “The Polar Bears’ Home: A Story About Global Warming” by Lara Bergen. After this day, L continues to draw pictures from this book, completing of representation of almost the whole book!

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We created displays with books open to interesting pages and asked the children to draw what these pictures made them think about. They are always so intensely focused when they draw.

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These are some of the drawings children made after viewing this picture and sign asking, “What is happening here?” The results are almost heart breaking but also so raw and authentic.

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Diagrams of the Greenhouse Effect were put out as provocation for students to investigate and learn more.

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More images of pollution causing Global Warming. These are more than diagrams – they’re works of art!

Experiments to Increase Knowledge & Wonder

One of my favourite ways to engage children is through science experiments. I absolutely love seeing the intense look of concentration on their faces – that thirst to know more…

 photo IMG_0664w_zpsg6nywhnb.jpgI thought it might be helpful for the children to consider what might possibly happen if the ice caps did, indeed melt completely. I set up two equal-sized bowls: one had a flattened ball of play dough in it to mimic the land in the Antarctic; the other was empty like the Arctic, which doesn’t have much land. I filled both bowls up with water to mimic the oceans, ensuring the water level was equal in both bowls. Finally, I put two ice cubes on top of the “Antarctica” play dough, meant to be like the ice sheet on top of the land. I also put two ice cubes inside of the “Arctic” water bowl to signify the floating polar ice cap. I asked the children “What do you think will happen when the ice cubes melt?”.

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Overall, the children predicted that the ice cubes would melt and the water would make the water levels rise in both of the bowls. I did have one child predict that the water would only go up in the Arctic bowl – though she couldn’t quite explain why. After writing down their predictions on our “Think/Notice/Learn” chart (scroll down to see photo below), we left the bowls and began our Thinking and Learning Time. Children came up at various times during their play to observe the development of the experiment and to discuss the changes they were noticing with their peers.
 photo e9290978-784c-4bf4-8b8a-21eca9e4c105_zpsku52pv0u.jpgThe children’s faces lit up when they realized that the Antarctic water levels were rising, while the Arctic water levels weren’t! M (pictured above in the bottom left photo) stated excitedly, “I think I know why the Antarctica one is higher!” Interestingly, M was the student who predicted that the Arctic water levels would become higher. It was wonderful to see how her understandings changed and how quickly things began to “click” for her. She was able to explain that the reason why the Antarctic water level went up was because the ice cubes had to fall off the play dough – they weren’t in the water at the start like the ones were in the Arctic bowl. I was so impressed by her problem-solving and higher order thinking. It proves just how capable these little ones really are!

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Look at that significant difference in water levels!

As the children stated their observations while the ice melted, I recorded them on our chart. When Thinking and Learning Time was over, all of the ice cubes had melted and we were ready to discuss not only what had happened – and how that may have differed from what we had predicted – but also why we think it happened. In other words, the “I Learned” portion of a “Think/Notice/Learn” chart, asks us to consider what it all means.

Through discussion, we talked about how the ice on top of the play dough in the Antarctic bowl was separate from the rest of the water in the bowl whereas in the Arctic bowl, the ice was
directly in the water, taking up space in the “ocean”. This is why when the Antarctic bowl’s ice melted, it flowed off the landmass and into the “ocean”, adding in new water and causing a rise
in the “ocean” level. This is similar to what would happen if the ice sheets (in the Antarctic and Greenland) melted – our oceans would rise.

In contrast, the Arctic bowl’s ice were already accounted for in the water level so when the  photo IMG_0646w_zpsjrcm92tk.jpgcubes melted, there was no difference to the height of the water. We talked about how water takes up the same amount of room when it is a frozen solid as when it is liquid because it is the same amount of water but in different form. This is why, if the Arctic’s floating ice melted, it
wouldn’t make as much of a difference to the world’s water levels.

I drew diagrams while we talked (pictured left) to better explain what we were seeing. In general, we realized that if Global Warming caused the ice to melt, the sea levels would rise, though the melted ice sheets on top of land – like that which is in the Antarctica – would be the main cause as opposed to the floating ice in the oceans.

Later in the day we also watched a video clip (see below) that showed us what would happen to the earth if all of the ice caps melted. We noticed that the shores would begin to flood and many major cities would be underground. The children noted that many people would need to move closer inland if the ice melted and the sea levels rose. Global Warming and the melting ice caps, then, affects all people – not just those living in the Arctic.

By the end of the day, we had completed our “Think/Notice/Learn” chart. Check out our flow of understanding below!

 photo IMG_0653w_zpsyzihgnmw.jpgMany children were inspired to show their learning through drawings. Below is R showing her version of my diagram about the melting ice caps!
 photo IMG_0657w_zps1xwjnjfn.jpgThe Global Warming and Rising Sea Levels Experiment was a total success and such a rich learning experience. Here it is in a nutshell…
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I couldn’t have done this experiment without ! For a thorough explanation of the experiment and the reasoning behind the results, visit: Seashore Science: How Melting Polar Ice Affects Ocean Levels by Science Buddies.

 Making a Difference: Bringing the Inquiry Home

While we had talked about what we need to do as humans to stop the harm to the earth from furthering, up until this point, we were mostly concerned with what exactly was happening. I also knew that I had to find a way to connect the children’s learning with their home lives and to begin to focus on where we go from here. If I wanted the message about Global Warming and saving our planet to translate beyond the walls of the classroom and for the children to see that the changes we need to make really can be practical, I had to involve families as well.

Fortunately – and so conveniently – Earth Hour landed at the right time to make this school-home connection happen. I asked students and their families to participate in Earth Hour by snapping a photo of themselves celebrating and then explaining how they can treat the earth kindly on other days as well. In addition to sparking conversation at home, my plan was also to create a poster displaying our home celebrations to show our collective learning.

The response was incredible and I had over half of my students participate! I consider this pretty amazing since I have 48 students. I gave families an extra week to participate in earth hour if the official day was not convenient for them. They held their own “Earth Hours” at times that were better for their children’s bed times and schedules. As the photos and responses came in, I showed the students at school and we kept the dialogue going.

Finally, after hours of work compiling all of the photos and responses in a somewhat organized fashion,  I completed the poster, which will hang outside of our classroom for us to discuss and remember as well as to show others. Have a look and see all the wonderful ways we celebrated and read about the ideas we have for respecting the earth beyond Earth Hour!

Hope you enjoyed!

Currently, we are working on another project related to being kind to our earth in honour of Earth Month (April). This time we are collaborating with our French partners to create a bilingual experience for the children! Stay tuned for that in one of my next posts. Until then, I will leave you with the following quote that has resonated with me throughout the course of this inquiry…

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Above, N creates a diagram – completely all her idea and by choice – to show what causes Global Warming and what we can do that is better for the Earth. She explained to me, “I made this to show my parents what to do and what no to do.” Out of the mouths of babes!