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4-6, Unit Seven, Activity 2: "Predicting the Future"

"It’s most important that students understand the range of possible consequences so they can choose how they wish to take risks with their own planet.” --Stephen Schneider

Students identify the process by which scientists in W-GIPP are determining/predicting the short and long range effects of global climate change.

Grade: 4 – 6
Time: Two 1/2-hour sessions, with research time between
Subjects: Language arts, scientific method

Teacher Background:
Scientists who are working on the global climate change issue are basically trying to predict the future. What will happen to Earth’s climate if the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are increased at a rapid rate? They are trying to make accurate regional as well as global predictions. Scientists in the Peace Park have chosen to work with a complex computer generated model to help them make these predictions. The accuracy of this type of model is dependent upon the extent and quality of the data that is fed to the computer. The students will gain an understanding of the difficulties inherent in this method of prediction as they attempt to collect data for their own predictions.


  • Paper and pen

1. Ask the students what they know about predicting the future. Have they ever tried it themselves? Do they read their daily horoscope? Do they ask their parents? How about the psychic predictions in the National Enquirer? What do they think of those? If they think that the Psychic’s predictions are unlikely to happen, ask them what data they are basing this belief upon.
2. Discuss the concept of probability. Scientists at Glacier National Park use this concept to organize the computer generated climate model which will help them to predict future weather patterns and their effect on the life-forms living in the park.
3. Tell the students that they will be making their own attempt to predict the future by describing what they will be doing one week from today, one year from today, and one decade from today. Have them draw up a chart with three sections, one section for each prediction.
4. Have them start by collecting as much data as possible for each phase of their prediction. They can gather data from you on next week’s lesson plans, from their parents on any future family plans that are known or under consideration, from the almanac or the weather station on conditions such as storms that might cause a change in plans. Encourage them to be thorough in their data collecting process--separating what is known from what is guessed and with the guesses have them rate the likelihood (probability).
5. When they feel that they have collected as much data as is available, have them write up their predictions.

Variations and Extensions:
When it is time to share their predictions with the class they might enjoy creating an atmosphere by dressing up as fortune-tellers or setting up mock computer charts to use as props.

How confident do the students feel about their predictions? The further into the future that the prediction is aimed, the more difficult it is to obtain accurate data. Scientists are trying to look ahead 50 and 100 years. What do the students think of their chances? The other difficulty that arises is--do you act on a prediction or do you wait until you know for certain what is happening? What if you wait until you are certain before you take action to correct a problem and then find that you are too late? What if you take immediate action on the strength of a prediction and later find out that the prediction was not accurate?

Did You Know?

Jackson Glacier

If current trends continue, some scientists predict that by the year 2030, Glacier National Park will not contain any glaciers and many of the park's smaller glaciers will melt even sooner.