The Year Without Summer Part 1

One of my favorite concepts to teach is the Earth and Human Impact. As a geologist and former environmental consultant, expanding students' knowledge of the earth and related environment cycles and processes is a passion. I added a mini-unit on The Year Without Summer to my Earth and Human Impact unit two years ago. I shared this lesson recently at #NSTAHouston during the High School Share a Thon. I recently began working with one of our High School English and History teachers to expand this unit into the ELA and History curriculums. As a school, we have started to create more integrated lessons between the core disciplines.


In 1816, New England experienced what has become known as "The Year Without Summer" or "1800 and Frozen to Death".

Students first read from the primary source "Historic Storms of New England" by Sidney Perley and gather evidence from the reading on the summer of 1816. I break the chapter up into four 2-3 page sections and divide students up into four groups, with each group reading a different set of pages. Students then complete a gallery walk of the evidence collected from the different pages of the text. As students gather their evidence, they begin to summarize it in a timeline in their notebooks.


I have students code their evidence for temperature and precipitation events. In the image to the left, precipitation events are highlighted in orange and temperature recordings in green. This artifact is also a great artifact to use in interdisciplinary work, students can add historical events to the timeline to begin to connect weather and climate to historical events.


After compiling their anecdotal evidence, students discuss how we can determine the climate in areas without a written weather record. Few cities in this time had records and weather stations. The weather stations at Dartmouth College and Mount Washington in New Hampshire were still several years away from being constructed. As a class, we generate a list of natural elements in the environment that could record weather and climate events. We focus on tree rings and ice cores and begin to investigate a range of data for the period of time between 1804-1820. Students first analyze tree ring growth indexes and note what they notice and wonder about the data.


After completing the tree ring growth index graph, students graph sulfate data from ice cores in Greenland and compare the data to the tree ring growth. As a class, we discuss how sulfate becomes encapsulated in ice in Greenland and discuss volcanoes. I pose the question, "How do we know where the volcano may have been located?". Students then pose, we should look at data from other ice cores and see if it coroborates the Greenland data. "Where else do we find glaciers we can core?" Antarctica! There is a fantastic map that the Polar Data Center published several years ago. Print it on a large scale plotter or

have staples or other print shop print it. It is worth it to have students make observations and investigate the drill sites. Students also come to the realization during their investigation that Antacrtic has volcanoes, which leads to a discussion of the ring of fire. Students observe that the peaks in Antarctica and Greenland mimic each other and that the Antarctic sulfate data has greater peaks than Greenland. As a class, we determined the volcano was likely located in the southern hemisphere because the sulfate was higher in Antarctica than Greenland. Therfore, Antarctica was closer to the source of the eruption. We then go back to the ring of fire to attempt to locate the area of the eruption. I then introduce Tambora and we discuss the eruption.


In a previous unit, we learned about the composition of the atomsphere and created a doodle note on the atmosphere. We revisit the atmosphere and talk about the approximate height of the eruption and what layer of the atomosphere was affected. Students then model how a volcano can become a climate disruptor. I love chalk markers on the lab benches. Expo neon markers also work well, and students LOVE to draw on the tables.


Once students have gathered all this evidence, they write a Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning thesis on the Year Without Summer. One of the discussions we have had in the past several weeks has been using common language across the disciplines. Students come into science and constantly say "but it's science class" when I edit their writing. We have attempted to start using common language in our classes so students make the connections between the disciplines and understand the expectations for writing are similar across multiple disciplines. One of our English teachers also took on my pleas and had them re-write some of their science responses as her bell work. This has helped increase their writing and get them writing like a scientist.


You can find my full lesson plan here. Stay tuned for Part 2, when I talk about the integration of this lesson into other disciplines.


#theyearwithoutsummer #climatescience #proxydata #claimevidencereasoning #CER #mounttambora #writingandthinkinglikeascientist #ngss