Education Technology

Modeling CO2 Levels

Activity Overview

This activity uses data on monthly carbon dioxide (CO2) levels collected from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.  It provides an opportunity to engage students with data that is relevant to contemporary discussions of climate change.   


  • Students will be able to model a contextual situation mathematically and use the model to answer a question.
  • Students will be able to summarize numerical data in relation to their context.
  • Students will be able to represent and interpret graphical representations of data.
  • Students will be able to use functions to model relationships between quantities.

About the Lesson

Evident in the data presented in this activity are at least two change patterns: one reflecting cyclic variation across the seasons of the year, and another reflecting an overall general increase in average CO2 levels for each year.  This affords a variety of interesting questions the teacher can pose aimed at sorting out these two patterns.

The activity can be used with middle school students who could plot certain subsets of the data using dot plots or box plots.  The activity can be used with high school students comparing multiple box plots of the data across years, analyzing scatter plots, or fitting models to the data.