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Activity: how and why is Earth's climate changing?

Make science come alive in your classroom with this free hands-on investigative activity aligned to middle school NGSS standards.

Activity: how and why is Earth's climate changing?

Earth’s climate is a result of complex interactions between sunlight and Earth’s water, land, atmosphere, and life. For millions of years, Earth’s climate has experienced periods of stability and periods of change.
How is the climate changing today? How can we tell if climate change today is similar to or different from climate changes long ago? In this activity, students analyze climate data from the last 400,000 years and develop a simple model of present-day climate change. Students then select a climate change solution and use their models to explain how the intervention would reduce the level of climate change.
A cold landscape with a glacier. Behind the glacier is a mountain, and in front of the glacier is water with floating chunks of ice.
Melt water ponded at surface in the accumulation zone of Columbia Glacier, Alaska, in July 2008. Image credit: “Glaciers and Sea Level Rise” by W. Tad Pfeffer, University of Colorado at Boulder, Public Domain.


This activity is designed to be completed in two 45-minute class periods, with additional time required for follow-up creative projects. The activity consists of the following parts:
  • Setting the stage—Students review fundamentals about climate, fossil fuels, and carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. (15 minutes)
  • Investigation (Part 1)—Students analyze data on carbon dioxide concentration, global temperature, and sea level over the past 400,000 years and identify patterns. (15 minutes)
  • Investigation (Part 2)—Students use their knowledge of human activity to complete a simple cause-and-effect model of present-day climate change. (15 minutes)
  • Let's get creative!—Students select a climate change solution and use their models to explain how the intervention would reduce the level of climate change. (45 minutes)
  • Keep creating!—Students can choose from additional project ideas. Each project encourages students to combine scientific knowledge with creativity to produce something new.

Download the worksheets and get started today!

You can print out this activity or upload it to a digital classroom.

NGSS performance expectations

MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

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  • purple pi teal style avatar for user oanjolaoluwa30
    how do we prevent the earth icecaps from melting
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • sneak peak green style avatar for user Ronan
      Good Question.

      The thing named "Climate Change" or more oftenly used "Global Warming" can play some factors in this.

      There are many ways to stop "Global Warming", but I am only listing three right now. You can review the "Human Impacts on the Enviroment" video where it states that "instead of using a car or a vehicle that uses gas for energy, use a bike". It also states that we plant more trees. But more trees does not mean that we stop everything and continue polluting, it means that some people plant trees so trees so the trees can use "photosynthesis" (correct me if I am wrong) to stop "Global Warming". Another way is that we could prevent unused factories to stay in buissness. Finally, we can "flatten the curve". In the video: "Earth's changing climate", there is the graph of the "average" temperature of the world. But recently, the chart got inflated. We can inflate it, but we have to deflate it too.

      These are some of the ways to stop climate change.
      (4 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Rip_luca
    i like this good job on explaining
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user