Climate Change and the Polar Regions: Unit Outlines

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content in this issue of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears? Not sure where to begin? We’ve created unit outlines for Grades K-3 and 4-5 using some of the resources found in the Climate Change and the Polar Regions issue. Rather than a prescriptive unit, the outlines are intended to spark your creativity and help you integrate these resources into your own particular teaching situation.

The unit outlines follow the 5E Learning Cycle model – engage, explore, explain, expand, evaluate.

Have another idea for a Climate Change unit? Share it with us – and other teachers – by leaving a comment below!


GRADES K-3 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit of study was developed to provide opportunities for students in the primary grades to learn about local weather phenomena through hands-on investigation, data collection, and pattern-finding. Students also have an opportunity to compare and contrast local weather with that of national or international locations.

Note: While this unit does not specifically address climate change, it provides a crucial foundation for learning more complex concepts in later grades.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry

  • Abilities Necessary to Do Scientific Inquiry

Earth and Space Science

  • Changes in the Earth and Sky

Science and Technology

  • Understanding about Science and Technology

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).


Unit Outline

Engage

Read What Will the Weather Be? or What’s the Weather? (from the Climate Change virtual bookshelf) aloud to introduce the topic to students. (Teachers of younger students might also consider picture walking, or looking at the illustrations without reading the text, as a sufficient way of introducing the topic.) Discuss what students know (or think they know) about weather, and record their ideas on chart paper or on a KWL chart.

Explore

In this phase of the unit, students should have time to make observations about weather and collect weather data. The lesson Weather 1: Weather Patterns contains guidance on how to help young students collect weather data. Teachers should wait until after the Explore phase to use the graphing section of this lesson. Teachers might also consider having students build simple weather instruments as described in Weather Stations: Teaching the Science and Technology Standard. Science notebooks or field journals are useful tools for recording data and observations during the Explore phase.

Explain

In this phase, students make sense of their weather data and look for patterns. At this time, teachers can finish the lesson Weather 1: Weather Patterns as a means of data analysis. Again, science notebooks or field journals are helpful as students make sense of their observations.

Children’s literature may also help students make sense of weather phenomena and develop a scientifically accurate vocabulary. Teachers may consider revisiting What Will the Weather Be? and What’s the Weather? from the Engage phase, or other titles from the Weather and Climate virtual bookshelf.

Next, the lesson Weather 2: What’s the Season? asks students to identify seasonal patterns in temperature and precipitation. Since this lesson focuses mainly on the impact seasons have on activities and dress, teachers might considering pairing the lesson with Paint a Sun in the Sky: A First Look at the Seasons from our Polar Patterns virtual bookshelf.

Expand

Once students have developed a basic understanding of weather phenomena and seasonal variations in weather in their local area, challenge them to extend their understanding to include other locations across the country and around the world with the lessons How’s the Weather – in Africa?! and How’s the Weather Today?.

Evaluate (Assess)

Each of the suggested lessons includes assessment ideas. Teachers might also assess student work from science notebooks or field journals with a rubric or checklist. Of course, student participation in activities and class discussions can also serve as a source of formative assessment.


GRADES 4-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit of study was developed to provide students with opportunities to develop a basic understanding of the connection between carbon dioxide and global warming, as well as an exploration of the effects of climate change in their area. It also provides an opportunity for students to engage in environment-friendly activities and learn about energy conservation at home and at school.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry

  • Abilities Necessary to Do Scientific Inquiry

Life Science

  • Organisms and Their Environments

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

  • Changes in Environments

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).


Unit Outline

Engage

Show two short videos (in part or in full) from the Teachers’ Domain Polar Sciences collection: Penguin Response to Climate Change and Polar Bear Response to Climate Change. (Note: The videos show dead penguins and tranquilized polar bears. Preview the videos before use, and substitute an alternate activity, such as a read-aloud, if you think the videos will upset your students.) The article Using Digital Media to Enhance Teaching and Learning provides helpful tips about using media in the classroom. Ask students to discuss how they felt about the videos. What else have they heard about climate change? Have they seen any effects of climate change in their area?

Explore

In this phase of the unit, students gather real data about the effects of climate change. Projects such as Project BudBurst and Climate Connections: Making Sense of Seasonal Observations provide opportunities for data collection as well as the ability to compare findings with data from other locations and previous years. Science notebooks integrate literacy skills while allowing students to analyze and make sense of their data.

Explain

When students have documented changes in weather and/or plants and animals in their local area, it is time to develop a basic understanding of why these changes are occurring. The lesson Modeling the Greenhouse Effect will help students understand the natural greenhouse effect, while People Changing the Atmosphere will help them establish the connection between human activity and global warming. Teachers may also choose to supplement these lessons with read-alouds and small group or individual reading of titles from our Climate Change virtual bookshelf and the video Studying Global Warming in Biosphere 2 (from Teachers’ Domain). The lessons Sing! Sing a Song! and Creating Question and Answer Books through Guided Research (modified for upper elementary students) provide opportunities for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned.

Expand

Expand upon students’ understanding of climate change with lessons and activities that promote environmental responsibility. Taking Action: Energy Efficiency at Home and at School and True Green Kids: 100 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet provide a wealth of ideas that can be adapted for classroom or home use.

Evaluate (Assess)

Observe and assess student participation in the activities.

Class discussions provide a source of formative assessment.

Science notebooks, composed songs, or question-and-answer books can be assessed with a rubric or checklist.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright June 2010 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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