The Greenhouse Effect in a Jar, Edible Modeling Activity, and Dramatization with Young Learners

Hello, my dear colleagues! In the next few short posts, I will share a lot of environmental education activities for young learners I made for my classroom and in various professional development courses.

This one is related to greenhouse gases and global warming.

How would you help your students understand why greenhouse gases are necessary, while also helping them understand amplified warming due to increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere?

Since I am a preschool teacher and our native language is not English, we have to use experiments and modeling activities. We also use descriptive videos and infographics.

Video example

Observe the Greenhouse Effect in a Jar

What You Need:

  • Two thermometers
  • A notebook
  • Pencil or pen
  • A clear container, such as a jar
  • Watch or clock
  • A sunny area, either outside or inside

What You Do: 

  1. Lay the thermometers in direct sunlight. Let them sit in the sun for three minutes.
  2. Open up a page of the notebook and draw two columns, one labeled “Thermometer A” and one labeled “Thermometer B.”
  3. After the three minutes have passed, read and record the time and thermometer temperatures in the notebook.
  4. Place one of the thermometers in the jar or container and seal. Make sure the lid doesn’t cast a shadow on either thermometer!
  5. Record the temperature of the thermometers every minute for ten minutes.
  6. Discuss how the container affected the temperature of thermometers. How did the temperature inside the container change compared to outside the container?

What’s Going On?

The thermometer outside of the container is constantly being exposed to air that is constantly changing temperature, as the warm air mixes with passing cooler air. The air inside the container is trapped and can’t mix with the cooler surrounding air–it just gets warmer as the sunlight heats it up. A greenhouse works in a similar way; solar energy in the form of light creates thermal energy, or heat, that can’t escape through the glass. This activity mirrors how a greenhouse works, but it’s not exactly the same as the greenhouse effect that is taking place in the Earth’s atmosphere. A complex interaction between light, heat, and chemicals make up the greenhouse effect and the chemicals known as “greenhouse gases” in the environment. They cause the temperature of the Earth to be warmer than it would be without them, much like the glass in a greenhouse, or the jar in this activity.

I would then try to deepen their understanding by presenting the positive greenhouse gases.

Did you know?

Some greenhouse gases are actually helpful and natural–they keep the Earth’s surface from getting too cold. In fact, without some greenhouse gases, the humans would regularly experience temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit, or -18 degrees Celsius. The problem comes when pollution caused by human industrialization creates additional greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. Excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase the overall temperature of the earth and disrupt the natural balance of the Earth.


Example of an edible modeling activity + dramatization

We made edible models and dramatized them with our chemical models.

Here are some brainstorming questions:

  • What happens in the atmosphere?
  • How are the atoms moving?
  • What happens when they move?

I gave different roles to children and we demonstrated with our own body what happens in the atmosphere.

To conclude

I hope you enjoyed my environmental activities! If you do some at home, please share photos with me and your feedback!

Originally posted on teacher Alice’s website for educators, and reposted with her permission. Source: Alice in Methodologyland

Have you ever considered including environmental activities and science experiments at home? If you have anything to add or say, write below or get in touch via the contact page.

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