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Follow the Light Energy from the Sun

Originally appears in the Spring 2012 issue

In this activity, students learn how greenhouse gases influence climate change by simulating the path of light energy from the sun. Third and fourth graders are able to exercise their boundless energy through kinetic learning. This active style of learning helps students internalize the concept of the greenhouse effect as they pretend to be light particles bouncing from Earth’s surface to the greenhouse gas layer and back again.

It is important to introduce students to greenhouse gases alongside the larger reality of climate change. Students may have heard of these concepts but lack a strong scientific sense of what these buzzwords mean. The classroom is a prime avenue to not only raise awareness of climate change, but also clarify the concept. If young students can learn how their own actions and the collective actions of society affect our planet, they can be empowered to make positive change. This lesson can be included as part of a unit on climate change or used as an introduction to greenhouse gases.

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Katie Frey and Leah Duran were teaching partners with Student Conservation Association Massachusetts where they taught environmental education in local schools and worked on conservation projects on public lands throughout the Commonwealth.  Now working for the National Park Service, Katie focuses on biological science work at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho, while Leah is an interpreter at Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California.