Data Puzzle: Balancing Act

Since the early 2000s, the Greenland Ice Sheet’s mass balance has been consistently negative, meaning more mass is being lost than gained. But this change in mass balance hasn’t always happened at the same rate. What could account for observed changes to the amount of ice in the Greenland Ice Sheet in recent decades?

Context for Use

This Data Puzzle is part of a larger collection of Data Puzzle resources that combine classroom-friendly datasets with Ambitious Science Teaching practices to help students make sense of phenomena!

The Greenland Ice Sheet covers 79% of the surface of Greenland. Greenland is located north of Canada and the United States. Map credit: QGreenland

Goals Header
What Students Will Do

  • Analyze and interpret Greenland Ice Sheet mass balance and climatic data to evaluate how and why the Greenland Ice Sheet’s mass balance changes over time.
  • Construct conceptual models to explain the primary factors controlling the stability and change of the Greenland Ice Sheet’s mass balance from 2000-2018.

Teaching Materials

Teacher Guide - Balancing Act
Slide Deck - Balancing Act
Student Worksheet - Balancing Act


Days 1-2

  • Part 1 (30 minutes) Eliciting Students' Ideas

Access students' prior knowledge about an opening scenario/event.

  • Part 2 (50 minutes) Identifying Important Science Ideas

Students engage with the featured scientist’s research (related to the opening scenario/event) through an interactive reading utilizing close reading strategies to identify important science ideas.

  • Part 3 (40 minutes) Supporting On-Going Changes in Thinking

Students test/compare their current understandings of the featured scientist’s research against authentic data.

Day 3

  • Part 4 (60 minutes) Explanatory Model Construction

Students finalize new understandings/science ideas as they relate to the scientific question to create an explanatory model.

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