Learn About Climate Change
- View satellite images that depict changes in global temperatures and the geography of different communities around the world
- Understand how the greenhouse effect causes global warming and has been exacerbated due to human activities
- Plan actions that can help mitigate the negative effects of human activities on the environment
In order to mitigate students’ anxiety around climate change and foster a willingness to take action, researchers have identified the importance of educational programming in which students are empowered to lead personal actions and educate others about climate change. During this activity, educators should encourage students to practice self-awareness and perspective taking to consider the impacts of climate change on their own community, as well as communities around the world, and collaboration to identify climate actions that they can take together.
To learn more about these skills, and how they promote students’ healthy growth and the development of empathy, please check out our Empathy Framework.
Step 1: Global Warming
Educator Note: The following video from NASA displays global warming from 1880 to 2022. Scientists from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Sciences reported that global temperatures in 2022 were 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.89 degrees Celsius) above average for the baseline period of 1951 to 1980. Earth’s average surface temperature in 2022 was tied with 2015 as the fifth warmest on record. The past nine years have been the warmest years since modern record-keeping began in 1880. To support students how to read temperature anomalies, explain that the the anomaly, or baseline, temperature is typically calculated by averaging 30 or more years of temperature data. A positive anomaly indicates the observed temperature was warmer than the baseline, while a negative anomaly indicates the observed temperature was cooler than the baseline (NOAA).
- Explain to students that they are going to view a video of global warming from 1880 to 2022. During the video, encourage students to pay close attention to the colors, time, and pace of global warming, and write down any questions that they have about the video.
- After watching the video below, invite students to share their questions with the rest of the class. If helpful, ask the following questions to start the conversation:
• What information is this animation showing?
• What do you notice happening with the temperature?
• What is an “anomaly”? What do you think the animation means by “temperature anomaly”?
Step 2: Greenhouse Gases
Educator Note: Greenhouse gases are gases in the Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons. In general, greenhouse gases are necessary because they trap heat from the sun and provide a warm planet for living things to exist. However, human activities have been contributing to excess greenhouse gases by releasing large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. This causes global warming because there is a large imbalance of carbon in the atmosphere compared to carbon stored in plants and the ocean.
- Ask students to share ideas about which human activities produce greenhouse gases, which are CO2, CH4, and “carbon” emissions. Use the following examples to guide your discussion:
• Using fossil fuels to generate energy (e.g., for cars, trucks, coal-powered factories)
• Cutting down forests and releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
• Raising livestock (e.g., cows) for meat and dairy consumption
• Burning wood, trash, and farm lands
Additional questions to draw out their funds of knowledge:
• What have you heard about greenhouse gases, global warming, or fossil fuels?
• Where have you heard about greenhouse gases, global warming, or fossil fuels?
• Who have you heard it from?
- Explain climate change using a simple metaphor. You might say: “Imagine that the atmosphere is like a clear blanket that surrounds the Earth. When we do certain human activities, like driving a car or burning coal and natural gas for energy (also known as burning fossil fuels), we add carbon dioxide and other gases to this blanket. This makes the blanket thicker, and the thicker it gets, the more heat the blanket traps underneath. This is called the greenhouse effect, and it leads to warmer temperatures, which disrupts the climate. This has been happening for many years, so our planet is becoming warmer and warmer, which has been creating climate change. We can see the effects of climate change in communities around the world, through heat waves, flooding from heavy rain, rising sea levels, and droughts.”
Part 3: Our Impact
Educator Note: The following images are from NASA's "Images of Change" gallery, which depicts changes to different locations around the world due to climate change, urbanization, deforestation, and other causes.
- Display the three images below, and for each image, ask students to:
• Make observations about the changes that occurred in this location over time.
• Make predictions as to what events took place over these time periods.
• Share any questions they may have.
- Reveal to students that the changes over time are due to the following human activities:
• Image 1 represents the growing agricultural activity in western Egypt from 1987 to 2012.
• Image 2 represents the destruction of forests in Niger from 1976 to 2007.
• Image 3 represents a growing urban area in Cancún, Mexico from 1985 to 2019.
- Consider having students visit the "Images of Change" NASA website to keep exploring the impact of human activities around the globe. Encourage students to choose a location close in proximity to them, and also explore how other parts of the world are changing because of humans.
- Afterwards, engage students in a reflection by asking the following questions:
• How did the images make you feel about the impact of human activities on the environment?
• What are some emotions or thoughts that you experienced when comparing the different images?
• How might the people who live in these areas be affected by the changes depicted in the images?
• How might changes in one part of the world impact other regions? Why is it important to consider these ripple effects?
• What are some ways that we can help protect and restore the environment in our local community? For example, our class might organize a tree planting day to plant indigenous trees, organize a community clean-up day, or start a recycling or composting program at our school. We can also calculate our carbon footprint and make lifestyle changes like eating less meat and dairy products, purchasing produce from local farmers, or using public transportation.
• Part of taking action is educating others about climate change. Think of someone who might not be aware of the environmental issues that we discussed today - like a family member or a student from another class. How can you explain climate change to them? What message would you want to convey to them? How can you involve them in our class’s climate action?
If students in both classes have individual devices (e.g., mobile phone, tablet, laptop, etc.)...
Use a platform such as Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams which allows you to screen-share during a video call.
One educator should set up the Kahoot! game and share the code with students in both classes by following this tutorial about using Kahoot! in a remote learning environment, and share their screen so everyone can follow along.
If students in either class don’t have individual devices...
Follow the same instructions above, with one educator starting the game and sharing their screen so both classes can follow along.
Instead of students joining the game to answer the questions, they can hold up their fingers, call out their answer, or use a paper template to indicate their response.