Sunday, February 20, 2011

Teaching Units for the ICCARS Project

Unit Design

There have been a few questions that have been coming up regarding the Climate Change units that are due on April 8, 2011.  The blog is a good place to discuss the unit.  Please share your comments and suggestions.  This will be helpful so that everyone can learn from each other.

Please keep in mind that the unit you turn in on April 8 may look different from its final form in 2012.  You will be able to adjust your unit as you use it and as your thinking changes.  We will have a template within the next month that we will be using.  As long as you are doing your work in Word format (Office, Pages, etc.), you will not have a problem with the template.  It will just be a matter of cutting and pasting.  The work that you share does not have to be original work.  You are not expected to design brand new activities to do with students.  But please cite all of your work.  The goal of these units is to provide teachers, outside of our project, with units that they can use with their students.

There are three topics that need that must be included within each unit:
  •         Climate Change
  •         Remote Sensing
  •        NASA Data

There are two reasons why these topics must be included.  First, it is a requirement of the grant.  But secondly, in order to study climate change, the other topics are necessary.  In order to study climate change we need to collect data.  There are many ways to collect data.  Remote sensing is the act of collecting data about an object without physically contacting the object.  Our students will collect data from their local environment, which in turn can be added to the global database.  Probably the largest database comes from NASA.  We want students to know where they can turn to, in order to use data to support their conclusions.

As the units are developed, the process of inquiry should be clearly identified.  Inquiry will look very different in classrooms.  The sad part is that sometimes it is absent in a classroom.  Inquiry can be teacher directed, learner directed, or somewhere in between.  You are encouraged to look at the Inquiry Continuum to see where your classroom fits in.  Please visit:
to view the continuum. 

Another source  to view is the ACT College Readiness Standards.  It will provide you with guidance on what students should know about interpreting data, scientific investigations, and evaluating models, inference, and exponential results.  You can view the standards at:

Finally, the 5 E’s should be prevalent within your lessons.  The 5 E Instructional Model will promote the practice of inquiry.  The 5 E’s are Engage, Explore, Explain, Enrich, and Evaluate.  Normally it takes 3-5 classroom periods to get through the 5 E’s.  You are encouraged to visit:
This is the BSCS website where you can learn more about the instructional model.  Even NASA encourages teachers to use the 5 E model, as you can see at:
You can download a pdf document at:
which will allow you to view all of the components of each of the 5 E’s.  Even though the document was written for an elementary book, the chart on the 4th and 5th page provides the BSCS document for the BSCS 5 E Teacher and Student.  It should provide you with all of the information you need to understand each of the E’s.

Now for the unit!  You need to make sure that all of the following information is included (much of this has already been turned in, but now you are putting everything together into one document):
  1. Title of Unit
  2. Aligned list of the Standards, Statements, and or Expectations.
  3. List of the essential content that you want students to have.
  4. Major Understanding (s) and/or Minor Understandings.
  5. Essential Questions that need to be answered during the unit.
  6. List of instructional materials that you will be using in the unit.
  7. Day by day lesson plans, including:
    1. Pre/Post tests
    2. Instructional Activities (aligned to the 5E’s)
    3. Assessments and Evaluations

As you design your day-by-day lesson plans, you do not need complete lesson plans, but you need enough description so that others would have a clear idea of what they would have to do to mirror your instruction.

Tom Green has developed a unit on the Carbon Cycle, that you may want to use.  He will be making instructional videos to help explain how to implement them into your curriculum.  Please visit:

Please share you comments and your ideas.  The goal of this unit is twofold:
  • To provide instructional units for other teachers so that they can more effectively teach climate change to their students.
  • Provide you with the opportunity to show the quality of work that you do in the classroom.  It is your chance to be published.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vegetation Indices and NDVI

Some remotely sensed imagery such as Landsat images are very well suited to identifying land-use and land-cover (LULC) types on medium scales. In our project we are also using 4-band AEROKATS TwinCam imagery to identify local LULC types at much finer spatial resolutions. Through the use of supervised or unsupervised classification methods in image processing software, it is possible to break up images into discrete classes that can then be quantified and subjected to statistical analysis.

Another method for understanding the imagery is though the identification of photosynthetically active, healthy green vegetation. Healthy green vegetation absorbs a high percentage of Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) in the visible portion of the EM spectrum - roughly from 0.4 - 0.7µm (or 400 - 700nm).

In healthy green vegetation, chloroplasts in the outer palisade mesophyll layer of the leaves contain the pigment chlorophyll. Chlorophyll pigment controls the plant's absorption of visible light. This absorption is particularly high in the blue (around 0.4 - 0.5µm) and red (0.6 - 0.7µm) portions of the spectrum. The red and blue wavelengths are converted by the chloroplasts into food for the plant. Green light (~ 0.5 - 0.6µm) has a lower absorption rate (therefore higher reflectance), resulting in the overall green appearance of healthy plants. Reflectance percentage (or albedo) in the red and blue wavelengths is generally well below 5%, with green around 10%.

A very different thing happens to the light in the near-infrared (NIR) portion of the spectrum, (~0.7 - 1.1µm). These longer waves penetrate deep into the leaf, and are reflected by the cellular structure of the spongey mesophyll near the back wall of the leaf. Reflectance (or albedo) ranges around 50-60% in the NIR.

If plants become stressed and leaves begin to desiccate less visible light is absorbed to make food and less near-infrared radiation is reflected. Therefore the ratio of reflectance in the visible versus reflectance in the NIR ranges begins to change.

A simple ratio (SR) can be used to describe this:


Because red acts as a good proxy for the visible portion of the spectrum as a whole we can use it to rewrite the simple ratio:


To compensate for shadows and variations in slope in some terrains, and to avoid extreme numeric ranges in the result, another index was developed - the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). Here the difference between the NIR and VIS reflectance is divided (or normalized) by the total reflectance in those ranges:


This ratio is calculated on every pixel in the image using the red and NIR bands. The result of this calculation is always a value between -1 and +1. The closer the value is to +1, the more likely the target pixel is healthy photosynthetically active vegetation. The closer it is to 0 or -1, the less likely it is to be healthy vegetation.

NDVI is useful for calculating biomass and primary production. It is also useful for monitoring green-up and green-down, as well as changes in the occurrence times of each over different years. NDVI is employed in monitoring drought and desertification as well.

Sources and more information:

NASA/GSFC Remote Sensing Tutorial (RSt), Primary Author: Nicholas M. Short, Sr.

Measuring Vegetation (NDVI & EVI), NASA Earth Observatory,

Introductory Digital Image Processing - A Remote Sensing Perspective, John R. Jensen 2005

Global System Science - ABCs of Digital Earth Watch Software, Lawrence Hall of Science, UC-Berkley

Monday, February 14, 2011

Summary of the ICCARS PLC Webconference on Monday, February 7, 2011

Review of the ICCARS PLC Webconference on Monday, February 7, 2011

Present:  Laura Amatulli, Lynn Bradley, Wanda Bryant, Russ Columbus, Erica Conley-Shannon, Greg Dombro, Jennifer Gorsline, Tome Green, Dan Neil, Kathleen O’Connor, Deena Parks, John Rama, Darcie Ruby, and Bruce Szczechowski

Absent:  John Bayerl and Caroline Chuby

The agenda for the meeting will follow, but before the agenda is listed, there was information that was shared from the group and we want that listed here, so that everyone can view the information quickly:

Free viewing of the PBS Program—Secrets Beneath the Ice.  Please visit:

EarthKAMM – Earth Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students is an educational outreach program allowing middle school students to take pictures of our Earth from a digital camera on board the International Space Station.  For more information or to register for the April 5-8 EarthKAMM mission, please visit:

The Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network:
was again mentioned as a really good resource educational resources.

A great site to check out for student projects is Think Quest, which can be found at:

eCyberMission is a free, web-based science, technology, engineering and math competition for students in grades six through nine.  The deadline to enter is March 3.   For more information, please visit:

1.     Updates – New Picasa Photos, CTN Grant Update, E-Rate Grant Update, Michigan Climate Coalition, ICCARS Calendar, ICCARS Pre/Post Test Developed based on Yale Study, Blog

2.     Important Dates:  The 2011 Climate Summit will take place on April 27 from 4:00 – 8:00 and the Summer Training for ICCARS will take place August 8 – 12 at Wayne RESA.

3.     Lifelines is offering two optional webinars—February 23 and March 16 from 6:00 – 7:00.   Possible collaborations among teachers may be coming.
4.     Additional Resources/Opportunities: Thacher Environmental Grants; GLOBE Student Climate Research Campaign, NASA Explorer Schools.

5.     iPad Updates:  Movie—Secrets Beneath the Ice; Book—Frasers Penguins; new eBook from Andy Henry on Image Processing.

6.     Assessments have been collected and are being reviewed.

7.     Next Assignment Due April 11 – Full Unit Development

8.     Climate Change Science – Discussion of Climate Change an Winter Storms

9.     Remote Sensing – Satellite Meteorology focusing in on the CERES, GOES, and POES.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thoughts on the relationship between weather, climate, and global warming

After last week's snow storm there was a lot of noise about whether this was caused by climate change, whether it refuted global warming, or if it was just weather in the Midwest. This brought me back to how much difficulty there is in understanding the relationship between weather, climate change and global warming. Without getting into whether we are observing a natural or man-made phenomena, I am going to take a stab at this clarifying these relationships.

  • The underlying phenomena driving climate change is global warming – the Earth is heating up. This is a simple, verifiable fact.
  • This heating occurs unevenly, largely do to local and regional variables, (e.g., air and ocean currents, atmospheric moisture, relative albedo, carbon sequestration, urban heat islands, etc.).
  • As the Earth gets warmer, ocean and air currents change, distributing heat and moisture in new patterns. Warmer oceans also mean more moisture is available to the atmosphere.
  • We experience these changes in our daily lives through weather, which is highly sensitive to such forcings.
  • Over longer periods, these effects produce changes in climate, which can dramatically alter the physical and biological characteristics of place on local, regional and global scales.
  • These changes in climate can also create feedback that amplifies these effects locally, regionally and globally.
More concisely, the warming of the planet causes changes in distribution of heat and moisture through weather. These patterns, sustained over time, cause changes in climate. Changes in climate in turn can create feedback that further impacts weather patterns.

And so on...

When we talk about the response of weather to global warming, we are talking about a large and nonlinear system (weather) responding to an influx of additional energy (global warming). Even though the increase in energy input may be gradual and seemingly small, the system response can be chaotic and severe.

By itself, the storm tells us very little about global warming and climate change. However, as part of a larger pattern of increasingly severe and unusual storms, heat-waves, droughts, and floods - all set against a background of record setting global temperatures - last weeks storm is entirely consistent with what we should be expecting to see. That is, just about anything.

As an added note, evidence suggests that historically, dramatic shifts in global climate have not tended to occur gradually, but quite often occur in time periods as short as a decade or less. Again, this is not inconsistent with non-linear systems.