How Does Climate Change Affect You?

By Helen Peyton and Margie Galles


The purpose of this unit is to acquaint the students with the idea that Earth's climate is static and will probably continue to be so. They will also learn that the global climate appears to be cyclical but has probably experienced changes due to human intervention which could interfere with the cyclical process.
Students will also look at the factors that seem to affect earth's climate - both natural and manmade. They will then look at how climatic changes have affected the human population of the past and possible future affects based on the concept of enhanced global warming caused by human activities.

Target Audience

This unit will be presented to seventh graders at the end of first semester. This unit is expected to last 4-6 weeks.

Earth Sciences Section

  • Objective 1 - Students will be able to differentiate between weather and climate.
  • Objective 2 - Students will be able to identify basic differences of major climate zones.

Content and Activities

  1. Students will study daily newspaper weather page and identify those elements that constitute a weather report.
  2. Class discussion of the meaning of the term "climate" and listing of the components that need to be considered when discussing climate
  3. Introduction of students to vocabulary of major climate zones (ie. Tropical, subtropical, temperate, arctic)
  4. Students will work in small groups to research the components of one climate zone. Information that they will need to find will include temperature patterns, precipitation patterns, seasonal changes, vegetation, typical wildlife of that zone, and a map showing locations of this climate zone on the map. Students will present their information to the rest of the class in the form of a poster.

Objective 3

Students will be able to list both natural and manmade causes of climatic change.

Content and Activities

  1. Lead students in discussion of what they already know as factors that effect Earth's temperature, precipitation, etc.
  2. Presentation on overhead of the handout Energy Flow Through the Earth's Atmosphere System P.65 of Global Systems Science
  3. Students will brainstorm ways that more energy could reach the Earth or be blocked by from reaching the Earth
  4. Students will identify Natural climate influencing factors
    1. Differences in Earth's surface in regard to energy absorption or reflection
      Activity - Students will mount thermometers above various surfaces and monitor temperatures over a period of 1 hour with readings every 5 minutes. Surfaces to be included are concrete, grassy area, soil, water.
    2. Reflection of energy due to cloud cover and how increased particulate count affects cloud growth
      Activity - "Cloud in a Bottle" Weatherschool, WOWT This activity explains cloud formation on a very basic level and will be important for entry C.
      Activity - Are there really particles in our air? Students will coat one side of a piece of filter paper with petroleum jelly and place jelly side up in a petri dish. The dishes are then placed in various locations around the school , both inside and outside and left for at least 24 hours. Students will then compare dust samples collected and hypothesize as to why all samples are not equal in amount of dust collected.
    3. Influence of volcanic activity on climate (Use USGS website to find information on Mount Pinatubo and its effect on global climate.
    4. Oceanic Factors - El Nino, La Nina, Deep Sea Current Upwellings
  5. Students will identify Manmade climate influencing factors
    1. Introduction to greenhouse gases
      Activity - Are You Contributing to Global Warming? Global Environmental Educator Resource guide for Middle School Teachers IV 7 . This activity has students simulate different atmospheric conditions by placing a thermometer in a sealed jar (control), a jar that has been exhaled into, and a jar that had a candle burning in it as it was sealed. Students then place jars in the sun and record temperature differences in approx. 3-5 minute intervals for at least half an hour.
    2. Presentation of identity of greenhouse gases and their causes using information from NIGEC 2000 data sheets
    3. Activity - How do green house gases affect plant growth? Construct mini-greenhouse from clear 2 liter pop bottles Plant one with soil and grass seed, water and seal. (control) Plant another in the same manner but capture carbon dioxide (vinegar and baking soda) in balloon and force into other bottle. Observe and record plant growth.
    4. Deforestation - Research Activity - Give students a bumper sticker that half uses the space with the words "Save the trees" . Students will need to research to find out what saving the trees has to do with climate and have them finish the bumper sticker with a "why" statement that pertains to global environment.

Objective 4

Students will examine predicted outcomes of global warming

Content and Activities

  1. Rising temperatures - Students will examine data of measurement of Carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa Observatory. Using graphs students will observe cyclical pattern that corresponds to seasons. This data available through handouts presented at workshop.
  2. Rising Sea levels - information from Climate change and sea-level Information Unit on Climate Change
  3. Change in Agricultural Production - From Climprob, collect data of Nebraska native grasses and plot on Nebraska map. Using data of average annual temp. for major cities of Nebraska produce a temperature map. Look for patterns of types of plant growth that correlate to temperature. Discuss how temperature change would affect vegetation patterns. Handouts from NIGEC 2000 workshop

Objective 5

Students will be able to give examples of past climate changes and identify methods of how this information was obtained.

Content and Activities

  1. Students will examine fossils gathered from various locals of Nebraska and discuss how fossils show change in climate
  2. Students will examine maps of North American and global glacier activity during ice ages.
  3. Activity- Getting to the Core of the Matter NIGEC workshop 2000 . In this activity students will graph carbon dioxide concentrations data obtained from ice core samplings taken from Vostok, Antarctica. ( See Nova video Greenhouse effect for film clip on this process.)
  4. Activity - What Information do Paleobotanists Use to Study AncientClimates? Global Change Educators Resource Guide. In this activity students will use a simulated sediment with simulated pollen to determine types of climate present at the time when that layer of sediment was laid down.

Objective 6

Students will give examples of how climate change in the past has influenced humans and infer how it could affect them in the future.

Side note - Students will be receiving most of the background information needed for this section in Social Studies Class.

Content and Activities

  1. Migration of Paleoindians across Beringa.
  2. Affects of drought on populations of early Native Americans (Anasazi)
  3. Dust Bowl Era - Students will identify groups of people that they feel would be hardest hit by changes in climate and how this would ultimately affect them.

Objective 7

Students will identify behaviors in their own lives that enhance or limit global warming.

Content and Activities

  1. Students will generate a class list of behaviors that use energy that creates green house gases.
  2. Students will chart personal behavior for 3 days to self-assess if they are environmentally conscious of their behaviors


Students will write a reaction paper to the question "Are Humans Changing Our Planet's Climate?" Evidence used from class discussion and studies must be used to back up their position

Social Studies Section

Objective 1 - Students will be able to determine what culture is and what helps to make up a culture.


Bring in items/pictures from different areas of the world. Students need to determine where these items came from. Then as a class determine what items we would consider part of our American culture.

Objective 2 - Students will examine the effects of the environment on culture.


Show pictures or have students dress in different clothing of different climates. Other students will need to determine what the housing, food and work is like for the people in the different dress. Discuss how the environment affects us in Nebraska during the different seasons, including the way we prepare our houses for the different seasons, the change in the clothing and food we eat.

Objective 3 - Students will examine the 11 tribal regions of North America and the differences created because of the environment. Also explain the environments influence on unveiling the land bridge, Beringia for the tribes to cross from Asia into the Americas.


Use maps to show the areas of Mesoamerica, the Southwest, the Great Basin area, the California area, the Plateau area, the Northwest Pacific Coast, the Plains, the Southeast, the Eastern Woodlands, the Subarctic , and the Arctic. Describe where Beringia was located and how the melting of the Ice Age has caused it to disappear.

Objective 4 - Students will investigate what types of things change a culture. Some of the areas of focus should be the climate, invasions of other people, and natural disasters.

Objective 5 - Students will research the impact of European settlement of the Americas on the Native Americans.


Students will pick a tribe of Native Americans and follow their history, explaining the influences of the Europeans. This will include religion, schools, slavery, diseases and being moved from their land.

Objective 6 - Students will examine our own culture for the changes that climate, the government, and natural disasters have created.


Students will create a T graph poster showing the good and bad influences on our environment. They will need to use information from magazines and newspapers. This should be used as their assessment of culture information.

Implementation Report

Our Global Environmental Studies Unit began in December of 2000 and has finally reached somewhat of a conclusion with my seventh graders. An interesting fact about this unit is that even though we are moving on to a different unit, the students are still showing interest in environmental areas of study. I feel this is an unexpected bonus.

Many of the activities that were listed in the project planned by Margie Galles and myself were accomplished, some we decided were unnecessary or redundant when it actually came to their place in the agenda, and others were added that we found after the writing of the original unit.

I began the unit with a discussion of factors that influence weather. We kept track of humidity and temperature readings not only outside of the building, but also inside the building. (We were having serious heating problems in our building at that time and we were actually doing our maintenance staff a favor by locating the problem areas of our building. The students saw a definite relationship between various temperature and humidity levels in the building.)

In our weather studies about cloud formation and precipitation, we captured dust particles on petroleum jelly covered filter paper to find out just how much dust was available for cloud formation. The ground at that time was snow covered and the students were amazed at how much dust was in the air even when the ground was not exposed to the air and wind. This was a great lead in to the discussion of the jet stream and prevailing winds.

The discussion of weather was timely since our December was such a weather eventful month. One of my students was interested in this topic enough to choose it as his science fair topic. His project centered on the accuracy of long and short term weather predictions.

After studying weather, we moved into the discussion of climate. Students worked in small groups to investigate a chosen climate zone or biome. Areas of investigation required of the students were weather patterns, adaptations of plants and animals that live in these areas, locations of these areas on the globe, and human use of the land in these climate zones. The students then presented their findings to the class orally and created a poster display of their assigned climate zone.

Our class then shifted its attention to what happens to the occupants of an area when the climate changes. Of course this brought up the dinosaur extinction issue. We then looked at how scientists study ancient climates through core samples and other techniques. We participated in an activity that used simulated sediment and pollen to determine how climate changes over time and how it affects the variety of plants that grow in a specific region. It took a lot of set up time for me, more than I expected, but the students found the activity enjoyable and from their writings at the end of the activity, I was able to see that they did learn more about both paleobotany and climatic affects on life.

This led us to look at the data from the Vostok, Antarctica ice core sample. The data about CO2 levels at that time meant nothing to the students, so we made the appropriate detour to Green house gases and temporarily shelved the ice core sample data.

Students were more interested in the green house effect than I thought they would be. I presented information to them about Venus and how the green house effect made an impact on that planet and how the lack of the green house effect caused extreme temperature changes on the planet Mercury. This led into a great discussion of positive and negative affects of the green house effect.

Students developed experiments on the green house effect by using two empty 2-liter pop bottles and radish seeds. One of the containers was left open, while the other was sealed shut with a thermometer inside. Students kept track of internal temperatures within the two containers and of the radish growth. The results were interesting. The sealed containers showed growth sooner, but problems developed within them that didn't occur in the unsealed containers such as overheating, (the south sun was pretty intense in my classroom in January), and mold growth. This led to a branched off discussion of conditions for mold growth and the question of how green house effect would affect this unwanted growth. (This led to two more science fair questions on mold growth.)

The study of green house gases went better than I thought it would. We studied both natural and manmade caused of green house gas production. Of course, they loved the study of methane and the idea of cattle "breaking wind". That's typical 13 year old humor for you. One student brought in a movie clip for the John Travolta movie Phenomenon in which the main character creates a car engine driven by methane collected from pig manure. Even though the movie was fiction, it was a great way to introduce the idea of finding alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels for energy.

The study of cfc's was interesting for the students to find old articles attacking McDonald's use of Styrofoam products and the use of aerosol cans. They learned how the power of public boycotting and outcry can cause positive change in the world of business.

After our study of green house gases, we returned to the Vostok ice core sample and the students graphed the CO2 data along side the temperature data and saw the similarities in the climbing and dropping of the CO2 levels and temperatures.

We also looked at some NASA atmospheric studies information and predictions of climate patterns 50 years from now. Students were skeptical of the accuracy of the predicted climate patterns, but they were able to use the data from their learning as a base for this skepticism.

Toward the end of the unit we looked at our own personal behaviors and evaluated them as being environmentally friendly or unfriendly, especially in regard to energy use that originates from the burning of fossil fuels. The students designed bumper stickers to encourage environmentally friendly behaviors. (They love e the artistic projects.) They also looked at the behavior of others that have been deemed as environmental heroes. They chose one person to research, such as Theodore Roosevelt or Rachel Carson and presented that person's values and accomplishments in the area of environmental issues to the class.

At the end of the unit, students had to write a reaction paper to the question, "Are humans changing our planet's climate?" I told them that there was no right or wrong answer to this question in my mind, but that they had to defend their answer with facts accumulated in this class. As this was their first reaction paper, I learned that next time around I will need to be more specific in my directions. The majority of the students gave me more generalizations than fact, so next time I know that I will need to work on a practice reaction paper first. By doing a practice paper first, the students will understand more what I mean by supporting information and hopefully get the kind of results that I was hoping for.