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TERC, Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College (SERC)


6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Chemistry, Physics, Earth and Space Sciences

Resource Types

  • Lesson Plans
  • Videos, 1 minute, 23 seconds
  • Experiments
  • Videos, 7 minutes, CC, Subtitles
  • Interactive Media
  • Activity - Classroom
  • Assessments
  • Videos, 3 minutes, 26 seconds, CC
  • Videos, 45 seconds, CC
  • Videos, 2 minutes, 5 seconds
  • Videos, 5 minutes, 48 seconds
  • Worksheets

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Climate and Earth's Energy Balance Lab

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  • This hands-on lab introduces students to Earth's energy balance as they investigate both the natural and human-enhanced greenhouse effect. 
  • This lab is divided into 4 parts that can be completed during separate class periods.
  • Students begin by learning about the water cycle and how it relates to Earth's energy balance. Then, students investigate energy inputs and outputs as they enter and exit Earth's atmosphere and they learn more about the greenhouse effect, solar radiation, and albedo.
Teaching Tips


  • This lab offers a series of in-depth lessons about Earth's energy budget and the greenhouse effect, including some hands-on investigations and assessments that aid student understanding.
  • Videos animations and interactive media are provided as a way to help students master these difficult concepts.

Additional Prerequisites

  • The concepts presented in this lab are fairly advanced and misconceptions can easily occur, especially for middle school students. Based on students' prior knowledge, consider first teaching students about the uneven distribution of heat from sunlight on a sphere before beginning Part A of this lab.
  • In part C, the link for "What is the Greenhouse Effect?" is broken.
  • Vocabulary terms include atmospheric composition, troposphere, stratosphere, solar radiation, and convection.
  • It is suggested that teachers practice and set up the experiments ahead of time to anticipate any issues.
  • Lab materials include clear plastic water bottles, digital thermometers, vinegar, baking soda, ice, pennies, shoe boxes, and clear containers.


  • This lab is best suited to be taught in 3-4 class periods, where the total time required for all four parts is 150-200 minutes.
  • Consider using any of the labs separately to provide a hands-on activity for students relating to weather systems, the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect, or energy balance.
  • The experiments could be demonstrated for students if materials are in short supply.
  • Related resources include this interactive simulation of the greenhouse effect, this lesson about radiation balance, and this video introduction about feedback loops. 
Scientist Notes

This resource introduces students to understand the energy balance and budget in Earth's climate system. There are no scientific misconceptions in the resource and is recommended for teaching.

  • Science
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • MS-ESS2-4. Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.
      • MS-ESS2-6. Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.
      • HS-ESS2-4. Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • HS-ESS3-6. Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.
  • Related Resources


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