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Co-inventing the Climate Lab: First lessons from an innovative partnership

Abstract

"How is a Where's Waldo puzzle like a graph depicting fifty years of average temperatures? In both, the key elements to focus on are disguised by an overwhelming amount of visual noise. Despite the apparent jumble of information, each presents discernable patterns. The trick to finding the "signal" among the "noise" is to assemble a large amount of data.

Getting students in the habit of looking for the signal or trend in a data set is the goal of the first activity in a new climate change unit for the Climate Lab, a prototype education program at the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. Students begin the activity by looking at Where's Waldo search and find puzzles and consider the following questions:
  • What is the purpose of the game? (Answer - to find Waldo)
  • What is the purpose of everything in the puzzle that is not Waldo? (Answer - to make it hard to find Waldo)
  • What help do we have in finding Waldo? (We know what he looks like, and we know he's there)
  • Based on this picture, would you be able to predict Waldo's location in other pictures? (?)
The activity then progresses as students continue to explore signal vs. noise in the context of weather vs. climate. They examine graphs showing the average annual temperature in Massachusetts over 50 years, first looking at small subsets of data from short periods. They consider several questions and make predictions and then continue their exploration by looking at larger sets of data and how those data sets impact their predictions of future temperature. These initial activities, along with several others focused on ecology and biology, comprise a one-week unit designed to help the Climate Lab participants get the most out of their field observation and data collection work, which is a primary part of the program."

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