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

Hello, my dear colleagues! In the next few short posts, I will share many environmental education activities for young learners I made for my classroom and in various professional development courses. This post features the greenhouse effect in a jar experiment.

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 must use experiments and modeling activities. We also use descriptive videos and infographics.

Video example

Observe the Greenhouse Effect in a Jar Experiment

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 the container is constantly being exposed to air that constantly changes 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. A greenhouse works similarly; solar energy in light creates thermal energy, or heat, that can’t escape through the glass. This activity mirrors how a greenhouse works, but it’s not the same as the greenhouse effect that is taking place in the Earth’s atmosphere. A complex interaction between light, heat, and chemicals makes 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, 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 earth’s overall temperature 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 what happens in the atmosphere with our own bodies.

To conclude

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

How do you engage your learners online or face to face? Have you ever considered including environmental activities in your lessons? Write below or get in touch via the contact page if you have anything to add or say.

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