In order to solve a problem, we must first understand what the root of the problem is. In science, as well as in everyday life, this often involves making hypotheses about what the cause of the problem might be, and either conducting experiments or collecting data and evidence to test them. Understanding the difference between correlation and causation is a crucial part of this process, as is what constitutes good evidence. Although two or more variables might appear to be related and to change in similar ways (correlation), that doesn’t automatically mean that one is causing the other to occur, or even has anything at all to do with it.
In this lesson, students will practice distinguishing between correlation and causation within the context of global climate change. Students will think critically and analyze different claims and datasets related to what might be causing increasing temperatures in a fictitious town called Solutionville, as well as around the globe. Although students will be working within the context of a fictitious town, the temperature and carbon dioxide data they will be analyzing are real and will enable them to see relationships between global temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Finally, students will watch a video in which they will be learn that the burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and they will begin to explore the connections between human activities and global climate change.