Tag Archives: uncertainty-infused scientific argumentation

¡El módulo de clima está disponible en español! (The climate module is available in Spanish!)

We’re thrilled to announce that the popular High-Adventure Science (HAS) climate module is now available in Spanish. Many thanks (muchas gracias) to Penny Rowe (University of Santiago of Chile) and Cristián Rizzi (Universidad de San Andrés, Argentina) for taking this on! The Spanish-language version directly parallels the existing English-language version.

Spanish-language version of the HAS climate module

English-language version of the HAS climate module










The HAS climate module poses the question, What is the future of Earth’s climate? This is a question to which climate scientists do not (yet) know the answer; while there is ample evidence that Earth is warming, there is uncertainty about how much the temperature will increase. There is continued active research to learn about all of the factors that affect Earth’s climate and their interactions. And it’s an interesting question, one with an answer that affects everyone on the planet.

These are types of questions that are posed by High-Adventure Science modules – big, interesting, unanswered questions about Earth and environmental science topics, coupled with real-world data and computational models. High-Adventure Science was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation.

While cutting-edge science is interesting, it can be challenging for non-scientists (students and adults alike) to understand. That’s why we scaffolded the data and models. Text and a series of guided questions help learners to figure out how factors such as carbon dioxide and water vapor affect temperature and each other (through positive feedback loops). Students can use the models to run experiments – what might happen if greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 50%, for example?

Model in High-Adventure Science climate module. What might happen to the temperature if greenhouse gas emissions decrease by 50%?


Additional scaffolding comes in the form of uncertainty-infused scientific argumentation items. Climate science, like all science, has uncertainties. Just because some of the scientific understandings are uncertain does not mean that no conclusions can be drawn, however. We don’t shy away from the complexity, but instead help students to consider some of the reasons for uncertainty with the data. For example, the real-world temperature data include error bars. Students are asked to consider the year-to-year variations, as well as the longer, multiyear trends. Additionally, students are asked to consider why the size of the error bars is different across different time periods, including methods of data collection, and how that affects the strength of conclusions that can be reached from the data.

Real-world data embedded in the High-Adventure Science climate module. Average temperature change, compared to 1950-1980 baseline, from 1880 to 2010. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

In each of the embedded four-part argumentation items, students (1) make claims based on the data, (2) explain their claims in light of that data, (3) rate their level of certainty with their explanations, and (4) explain what affected their certainty levels. Rather than turn students into “climate deniers,” this process has helped students to more deeply learn the underlying science. In our research, students who used the High-Adventure Science climate module improved their abilities to formulate good, data- and evidence-supported scientific arguments, even with an uncertain science.

You can find both the English- and Spanish-language High-Adventure Science climate modules, as well as other High-Adventure Science modules and models, in the STEM Resource Finder at learn.concord.org/has.

Uncertainty: Real-world examples

When you live in New England in the winter, you pay attention to the forecast. Large snowstorms can make travel near impossible. Heavy snow and blowing winds can cause coastal flooding, power outages, and roof collapses.

The National Weather Service (NWS) exists to “provide weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.” They’re my favorite source for weather forecasts. And yesterday morning (February 26), they gave me one more reason to appreciate them.

You see, there’s a big storm that may (or may not) be coming later this week. Last week, some forecasters (not from the NWS, it should be noted) were calling for blizzard conditions – seven to eight days from any potential storm! That’s lots of planning time, but is it valid to make plans based on seven-day forecasts?

Yesterday morning’s post from NWS Boston included this graphic and description:


Note the words “POTENTIALLY” and “LOW CONFIDENCE FORECAST”. Clicking through to look at the details, you can learn a bit about the model information on which they’re basing their forecast. If you don’t know a lot about meteorology, you can get lost in the abbreviations and details of the models. But the meteorologists have made it easy to understand their shifting confidence by explaining how model runs have shifted as they compile more information. They’ve put a bit of this information into their graphic, illustrating that the model error decreases as more information is known closer to the event.

On a much more novice level, this is what students do when they use High-Adventure Science (HAS) activities. (High-Adventure Science, a National Science Foundation-funded project, produced six NGSS-aligned curricular modules on cutting-edge Earth and environmental science topics. These free, online curricula incorporate real-world data and computational models and are appropriate for middle and high school classrooms.) In HAS activities, students run models and make claims based on data from the model runs. They rate their confidence with their answers and explain the factors that led them to that confidence level.

In our research, we found that when students were asked to write about uncertainty in the context of scientific arguments, they improved their overall argumentation ability. That suggests that teaching about uncertainty in science enables students to better understand real-world science – including weather forecasts.

Will we experience a big snowstorm later this week? I’m confident that the staff at NWS Boston will keep an eye on the model runs, updating me (and the rest of the Boston area) with their forecasts and levels of certainty with the data. In the meantime, check out a High-Adventure Science activity to enhance your students’ scientific thinking skills!