Impact of Climate Change on Biological and Physical Systems

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SWBAT analyze climate data to identify the impact of climate change on physical and biological systems.

Big Idea

Students look at data from a variety of sources to make claims about the impacts of climate change.

Getting Started

In this lesson, students rotate through eight data stations. Four of the stations focus on the impacts of climate change on physical systems on Earth. The other four stations focus on impacts to biological systems.  Each station includes a graphic and instructions for discussion, along with focus questions related to the graphic. Students work in groups to discuss the data, answer discussion questions then make a claim based on evidence. 

This lesson incorporates the skills in SPs 4, 5 and 6 (Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematical and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions). 

I made the decision to place this lesson towards the end of unit so that students can pull from evidence collected in  the previous labs and investigations. If you have not completed the sequence of lessons outlined in the unit, do not fret. Students can complete the data analysis and make their claims for the images alone. The emphasis is on building arguments from data. 

You may want to consider the best approach to managing this lesson for your classroom. Rather than having students rotate through stations you could have them stay put and then rotate the data table group to take the group. For my classroom I chose to make five sets of colored graphs for each of my five table groups so that my students could stay in one place during the class.


  • Data images
  • Student handout
  • Station directions


Lesson adapted from Impact, Adaptation, and Mitigation of Climate Change, Stanford Climate Change Education Project.


5 minutes

Begin by showing your students the sample data set and tell them that they are going to look at data evidence to make claims about the impact of increased greenhouse emissions on physical and biological environments. Use the sample graph to model how to do this. 

Project the graph ask the class the following questions:

  1. What is the title of this graph? What are you looking at?
  2. What are the variables? What units are shown for each?
  3. What trends or patterns do you see?
  4. Do you see any changes occurring over time within the variables or are things remaining consistently the same?
  5. What types of changes, if any, do you see occurring?
  6. What types of relationships do you see occurring between the different variables you have selected to study?

Next, ask them to make a claim from the data. Have students use evidence from the image to back up the claim. Give them time to think and write (don't skip this part - writing is thinking) before eliciting examples.

This chart shows monthly CO2 levels in recent years, corrected for average seasonal cycles, as measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. (From NOAA.)

Key points

  • This chart shows the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in recent years measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii.
  • Carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere has increased by about 24 percent since 1958.
  • Carbon dioxide is the primary driver of global climate change.
  • The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been measured from this location continuously since 1958.
  • Carbon dioxide is an important heat-trapping (greenhouse) gas, which is released through human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, as well as natural processes such as respiration and volcanic eruptions.


30 minutes

Tell your class that they will rotate through eight stations. Each station has the instructions and task cards. Students record their answers on the student handout.

As a group look at the graphs. Discuss what the group thinks the graph represents prior to looking at the questions for this station. Encourage students to ask each other questions about parts of the graph that they don't understand and/or point out parts of the graph that you think are important. It is helpful to start by identifying what each axis represents and see if the students can pick the conversation up from there. Try to avoid telling students what the graph represents. Productive struggle is a good experience - we want our students to work at developing their own understanding - so don't rush this part.

After looking at the graph, read the questions for that station from the Group Task Card.  Students are expected to discuss each question, with everyone contributing. Modeling this participation expectation is a good reminder of what scientific discourse "looks" and "sounds" like. The questions on the task card are designed to ....

After they are  finished discussing the questions, individually answer the two questions for each station on the student handout. Here they will make a claim and back it up with evidence. 



15 minutes

This may take more than one class period to finish. When all the groups are down, bring the class back together to summarize the activity. Some questions to consider for discussion can include:

  • What claims can be made about climate change?
  • What is the evidence that climate is changing?
  • What is the impact on physical systems?
  • Is this evidence convincing?
  • Was anything puzzling to you or your group?