What Are We Coming Home To? (Part 2)

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SWBAT explain the potential impacts that the rise in global temperatures can have on the Earth and our way of life.

Big Idea

Students use their research skills to determine all of the ways that global warming can impact life on Earth.


15 minutes

Students ended the prior lesson by brainstorming the steps they need to take as they return home to an unknown Earth environment. I begin this lesson by having students generate a list of items that humans must have in order to survive, such as food, water, shelter, etc. I encourage students to be as specific as possible while focusing on creating a list of basic survival needs.

Once students have developed this list, I ask them to determine how we can determine if the Earth will still be able to provide these for us and, if so, where would be the best place to find these needs. A possible script follows:

Alright crew, you are the scientists - I just fly this ship, but it seems to me that we need to determine exactly what we need to survive and if Earth can still offer us those resources.  Let's work in teams to create a list of necessities for human survival and develop a plan for what to do next.


90 minutes

At this point, students should have come to realize that they must determine the state of the Earth in a post global warming era, either on their own or with some guidance. Encourage students to develop a plan for finding the needed information by having them state some questions such as:

  • What are the current temperatures throughout the United States?
  • What effects have the altered climate had on human health?
  • How has crop production been affected?
  • How has the weather changed?  Has there been an increase in the number and severity of extreme weather events?  What is an extreme weather event?
  • Do seasonal changes still occur?
  • How have the ecosystems (land and water based) across the United States been impacted for both plant and animal life?  
  • Is there still usable soil for crop production?  If so, where?
  • What is the current state of air and water quality?
  • What has been the impact of warming on the oceans in regard to current flow and direction?  How has the increase in PH levels (acidifcation) altered that ecosystem?
  • What has been the impact on energy production and consumption?
  • What is the current state of our natural resources?
  • What is permafrost and what could have been released as it melted?

**NOTE: Most of these questions will be addressed in the upcoming lessons.  Students will be responsible for the questions they develop as the unit progresses and any not covered within the unit lessons.

The more of these questions that come from the students, the better as these will form the backbone onthe research they need to conduct. So try to hold out and elicit the thinking from students using probing questions, or asking them, "What else?" These questions can be posted on a whiteboard (or website/Google doc) that students can easily see and access.  The ORGANIZER: Research Questions and Answers provides an example on how I organize a Google sheet that my student groups can copy and edit as the unit progresses.

As students work they should have a place in which they can add new questions they develop during their research. As a class, at the beginning of each research session we address the master list of questions and identify and discuss the information discovered and new questions that were developed. It is important to model this step for students so that it becomes more natural for students to continue documenting questions they develop as they learn new information. Middle school students are quite good at answering questions from a list, but I have found them reluctant to "make more work" for themselves by adding questions to the master list, even when they recognize that they need more information to be successful.  

Alright team, you are the scientists, not me - I just drive this ship and keep you all safe.  I need to know what to expect down there.  I want you to break into teams and find me the answers to these questions!  What are we going home to?  Put together a presentation of your findings and make it easy for me to understand and give me a good idea of what we can expect to find!  

Based on the questions developed it seems you have these main areas to look into:

  • Ecosystem changes - let's just focus on the US- I don't speak any of those fancy languages and I just want to get home to my family.
  • Weather patterns and conditions 
  • Crop production and food supply
  • Natural resources and energy production
  • Human health impacts

It is easier for students to focus on just one area of the United States so I recommend assigning groups to the following regions: Northeast, Southeast, Northwest, Southwest, Midwest. If you have more than 5 groups you could either double up regions or have the "extra" groups look into the effects on other countries such as Canada, Mexico, South America or Africa.

The following links can be used to get students started on their research. These links and videos are intended to get students thinking and from there they can find their own reliable resources as they develop their own questions find interesting information from these starting resources.

Current and Future Consequences of Global Change

Climate Change Today

Climate Change: Threats and Impacts

Future Climate Change

Effects on People and the Environment

Thawing Permafrost

Drunken Trees: Dramatic Signs of Climate Change

Giant Virus Resurrected From 30,000 Year Old Ice

Rising Sea Ice Interactive Map

Science Bulletins: Sea Ice 2000 - 2008


Exploding methane gas bubbles - Earth: The Power of the Planet


Deadly Diseases: Ice Melt Could Bring Virus Back From the Dead


**A note on the last video: I like this video for the questions it brings up about the spread of disease following global warming and the link to the implication that the world that exists in this lesson has been impacted by such a virus. I suggest watching this video with your students to guide a discussion so they don't accept this as 100% true but a possibility (this will be a future lesson).


35 minutes

I have all student groups present their findings. Because students are required to interpret our predictions of the future into a more present day "this is what we can expect to see" format, there might be some differences in the findings of groups that researched the same areas. I love this as it provides an opportunity to have students justify their findings and explain their conclusions (SP7: argumentation based on evidence).

As students present, I log their findings in a Google doc to be displayed following the presentations. This can be used to show the discrepancies between groups and deepen the learning experience as students justify their findings or, if students are unable to support their ideas, the class can further research to determine which conditions are most accurate. Additionally, this doc can be used in a future lesson when students determine where we should land the ship and develop our society.