How It Fits into the Curriculum

In Teachable Agents: Planetary Rescue, students teach a computerized agent by creating concept maps showing the causal relationships between key ideas. Through a series of game levels, the agent reasons and solves global warming problems using what it has been taught. The result is that students learn how to use causal reasoning, and they learn about the mechanisms and outcomes of global warming.

The game is divided into three modules, or galaxies. The first considers outcomes of global warming, such as sea level rise and animal migration. The second considers the mechanisms behind global warming and the greenhouse effect. The third galaxy focuses on human causes of increased greenhouse gas emission, as well as some actions to reduce it. Students can play through all three galaxies at their own pace, or they can be instructed to stop at the end of each galaxy.

Student Learning Objectives

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

  • Develop a causal model of the greenhouse effect and global climate change
  • Use a model to explain the processes of the greenhouse effect and global climate change
  • Use a model to predict the effects of changing input variables within the climate system
  • Evaluate the accuracy of a model of the climate system
  • Connect human actions (both positive and negative) to effects on the climate system

Alignment with Next Generation Science Standards

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices

  • Developing and Using Models. Develop a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.
  • Asking Questions and Defining Problems. Ask questions to identify and clarify evidence of an argument.
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Apply scientific principles to design an object, tool, process, or system.

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ESS2.D. Weather and Climate. Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns.
  • ESS3.D. Global Climate Change. Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.
  • ESS3.C. Human Impacts on Earth Systems. Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things.

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect. Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.
  • Systems and System Models. Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions – such as inputs, processes, and outputs – and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.
  • Stability and Change. Stability may be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.
  • Influence of Science, Engineering and Technology on Society and the Natural World. All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.

NGSS Performance Expectations

  • MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Why Concept Mapping:

A concept map is a diagram that depict the relationships between related concepts. Throughout the play of this game, students will be constructing a concept map for the causes and effects of global climate change. They will also be evaluating their concept map for accuracy by participating in terraforming challenges and content quizzes. In this game, the concept map serves as a model – an abstract representation – of Earth’s climate system. Concept maps are a tool in which students organize their subject matter knowledge. Educational research suggests that creating causal concept maps can increase an individual’s conceptual understanding and improve causal reasoning, even when learning new topics. Collaborative concept mapping - constructing concept maps in small groups - has been found to increase the amount of scientific discourse between students. In creating a single concept map, student groups must engage in scientific co-constructed reasoning. In addition, concept maps are a tool used to make thinking visible to others. As a teacher, it can be used to assess student understanding of a topic.