Earth's Changing Climates

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SWBAT explore and critically analyze real-world data; make claims about data and determine their own level of certainty with regards to their claims

Big Idea

Students are introduced to the unanswered questions about the future of Earth's climate.

Getting Started

This is the first of five modules on climate change from the Concord Consortium. You could choose to follow the modules in the order presented if you like. I chose to break them apart to fit into the flow of my unit on climate change.

The website says that each module should take about 45 minutes to complete. My students have not needed this much time. Thirty minutes is more realistic. I would recommend planning on time to debrief and discuss each module, in which case you could spend an entire 50-55 minute class per module.  

I have attached the Portal User Guide to setting up a teacher account and creating a class list. In addition, the teacher guide can be found at What will be Earth's climate in the future? 

The modules address the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices, as well as the Crosscutting Concepts. 

Science and Engineering Practices:

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)

2. Developing and using models

3. Planning and carrying out investigations

4. Analyzing and interpreting data

5. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)

6. Engaging in argument from evidence

7. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Crosscutting Concepts:

1. Patterns

2. Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation

3. Scale, proportion, and quantity

4. Systems and system models

5. Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation

7. Stability and change

In addition to the following Disciplinary Core Idea:

ESS3.D: Global Climate Change 

Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. (MS-ESS3-5)

  • Computers with internet access

NOTE: This activity runs entirely in a Web browser. Preferred browsers are: Google Chrome (versions 5 and above), Safari (versions 4 and above), Firefox (version 3.6.10 and above), and Internet Explorer (version 7, 8, or higher; note that version 6 or below does not work). 


5 minutes

To get started, students explore the question, "What will Earth's climate be in the future?" to give them some background on the purpose of these modules. 

Using guided questions, they explore the interactions between factors that affect Earth's climate. Looking at temperature data from ice cores, sediments, and satellites and greenhouse gas data from atmospheric measurements they draw conclusions and build claims from evidence regarding how we can be certain that Earth is warming. 

I created the Activity 1- Earth's Changing Climates handout to help in walking your students through the process of creating an account and starting the first module.


45 minutes

Once your students have registered on the website, and begun the modules, I move around the room and chat with individual students. This is one of my favorite aspects of teaching using simulations and online modules, because I can have 1:1 conversations about the content and help ALL my students. 

It is very common to hear, "This is cool!, This was a great class!" and other comments pertaining to how much my students enjoy learning while interacting with the simulations and modules. 

Some of the data that is included is challenging to interpret and your students will need you to help coach them through making sense of the data. If you anticipate that your class may struggle with interpreting the graphs, it would be very appropriate to project the module and discuss each section as a class.


10 minutes

At the end of each module, you can have your students print out their responses and turn them in for a grade, or for your review. In addition, you can access all the student responses through the teacher portal and manage grades there if you like. 

However you choose, I think it is good practice to discuss the module and in particular address the systems connections to global warming. Using the images and graphs as your guide, engage the class in a discussion of how we can make predictions about the future of global wearing by looking at the past. 


In the video below two of my students reflect on how they made meaning of climate data by using this simulation. 


20 minutes

To wrap up this this lesson and preview the content that follows I use the following Climate Change Overview presentation. You may have a better one to use of want to take parts of this only. 


Follow up: I only focused on temperature changes, sea level rise and ocean acidification during this unit due to time constraints therefore I recommend limiting the slides to cover the variables you will study. There are many approaches to teaching about climate change and one could teach many more lessons than I have presented here. You many have climate change issue in your area that area or as part of you expertise that are a better fit for you classroom. The focus for these part of the lesson is to preview what is to come and lay the foundation for the unit of study. 


10 minutes

If you wish to extend student practice with graphing I have included an activity titled, Graphin' It Up Activity. It will help with analysis of graphs encountered in the module. 

You could use this at the start of this lesson as well if you think that it may serve better as a precursor to looking at the data they will interact with in the simulation. 

An idea for teaching this would be to project the graph to the class and complete the questions together.