Unit Plan: Earth’s Climate in the Future

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content in this issue? Or are you wondering how you can integrate these resources into your own classroom? We’ve created unit plans for Grades K-2 and 3-5 using the resources in this issue of Beyond Weather and the Water Cycle. The units are modeled after a learning cycle framework built around five key steps — Engage, Explore, Explain, Expand, and Assess (or Evaluate).

The learning cycle

The Learning Cycle. Illustration from the Ohio Resource Center for Mathematics, Science, and Reading.

As discussed in other articles in this issue, we’ve intentionally not highlighted resources that teach students about climate change and probable future consequences. Best practices in this field suggest that such content is inappropriate for young students and can be frightening for them. Instead, we presented resources about water availability and extreme weather events – two issues that will become more important as Earth’s climate changes – without tying them to climate change at this point. These unit plans help elementary students develop an understanding of the limited amount of freshwater worldwide, the differences in water availability and use from country to country, and the importance of water conservation.

Grades K-2

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit is designed to provide primary students with the opportunity to learn about the availability of freshwater. It uses hands-on experiences and nonfiction text to answer the questions Where does our water come from? and Why is it important to conserve water?

Standards Alignment

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

Earth and Space Science (Grades K-4)

  • Properties of Earth Materials

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Grades K-4)

  • Types of Resources

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.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate 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.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.

Unit Outline

Engage

Begin by asking students to share what they know about water. Where have they encountered water in nature? When do they encounter water in their everyday life? How do they use water at school and at home? Ask students to create a list recording the ways that they use water that day. They can begin their list at school and then complete the list at home that evening. Ask them to bring the completed lists to school the next day.

The next day, compile a class list of all the ways in which students used water. Continue the conversation about water use by using questions c, d, f, and g found in the Warm Up section of the Water Scarcity lesson:

  • Where and when do you use water the most?
  • Where do you think the water that you use comes from?
  • Do you think it is possible to run out of water?
  • What would happen if your water supply was reduced?

Allow students to talk about these questions in pairs, and then select several pairs to share with the class. Explain to students that they will be investigating the questions Where does our water come from? and Why is it important to conserve water? Post these questions on chart paper and display them in a prominent place during the remainder of the unit.

Explore

Begin this phase with an activity that helps illustrate the abundance of water (freshwater and salt water) on Earth. As described in More Land or More Water?, students will toss and catch an inflatable beach-ball globe and record whether their thumbs land on land or water in a tally chart. After a number of tosses, students analyze the data to determine that there is more water than land on Earth. Ask students to examine the globe or maps and identify possible sources of water (oceans, rivers, lakes). Record these ideas. Next, read Sources of Water by Rebecca Olien (from our virtual bookshelf) aloud. Ask students to listen to confirm the sources of water they identified, and to discover new sources to add to the list. Update the list as students share new information from the text.

Next, complete Activity One: Measuring Available Water Supplies from the Water Scarcity lesson to help students better visualize the small percentage of water that is available for human use. Also complete Activity Two: Discussion and Reaction. Conclude this section of the explore phase by reading All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon (from our virtual bookshelf).

Return to the list of ways that students reported using water and add a second column to the list. Ask students to brainstorm ways that they can conserve water in each of the scenarios and list them in the second column. For example:

Ways We Use WaterWays to Conserve Water
Brushing teethTurn off faucet while brushing

Continue the conversation until students have listed a number of ways to conserve water. Conclude by reading Keeping Water Clean by Helen Frost (from our virtual bookshelf) aloud.

Explain

Have students demonstrate what they have learned by creating glogs (online posters) answering the unit questions: Where does our water come from? and Why is it important to conserve water? Student work might include images of freshwater and saltwater sources, images of people using water, and information about why water conservation is important. Note: If technology is limited, students could draw pictures or create paper collages instead.

Expand

In this phase, allow students to apply what they’ve learned to the real world. The article Take Action: Water Conservation provides resources that extend student understanding and allow them to put their new knowledge into practice.

Assess

Formative

Formative assessment can be conducted throughout the unit. Student participation in class discussions can provide evidence of emerging understanding as well as engagement in the topic. Activities should be modified to provide greater support or greater challenge as needed. Flexible grouping strategies can also be used during discussions to support student participation.

Summative

Students’ glogs serve as summative assessment. Student work can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for scientific accuracy and overall quality of work.


Grades 3-5

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit is designed to provide elementary students with the opportunity to learn about the availability of freshwater. It uses hands-on experiences and nonfiction text to answer the questions Where does our water come from? How does our use of water compare with others’ use around the world? and Why is it important to conserve water?

Standards Alignment

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

Earth and Space Science (Grades K-4)

  • Properties of Earth Materials

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Grades K-4)

  • Types of Resources

Earth and Space Science (Grades 5-8)

  • Structure of the Earth System

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Grades 5-8)

  • Populations, Resources, and 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.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate 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.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.

Unit Outline

Engage

Begin by asking students to share what they know about water. Where have they encountered water in nature? When do they encounter water in their everyday life? How do they use water at school and at home? Ask students to create a list recording the ways that they use water that day. They can begin their list at school and then complete the list at home that evening. Ask them to bring the completed lists to school the next day.

The next day, compile a class list of all the ways in which students used water. Continue the conversation about water use by using questions b, c, d, and e found in the Warm Up: Why Is Water Important? section of the Water Scarcity lesson:

  • Where and when do you use water the most?
  • Where do you think the water that you use comes from?
  • Do you think it is possible to run out of water?
  • What would happen if your water supply was reduced?

Allow students to talk about these questions in pairs, and then select several pairs to share with the class. Explain to students that they will be investigating the questions Where does our water come from? How does our water use compare with others’ use around the world? and Why is it important to conserve water? Post these questions on chart paper and display them in a prominent place during the remainder of the unit.

Explore

Begin this phase with an activity that helps illustrate the abundance of water (freshwater and salt water) on Earth. As described on this web page, small groups of students will toss and catch an inflatable globe of Earth. Each time the globe is caught, the students record whether their thumbs are touching land or water. This process is repeated approximately 20 times. Students then share and analyze their data to draw conclusions about the relative abundance of land and water on Earth. Note: If you do not have access to a sufficient number of inflatable globes to divide students into small groups, this can be conducted as a whole-class activity.

Next, ask the groups of students to carefully examine their inflatable globes and identify sources of water. Each small group should generate a list of their ideas. Ask students to rank these sources in order, starting with the largest source of water and ending with the smallest.

Once groups have completed their lists and rankings, they will read an informational text (or an excerpt from a longer text) about freshwater and saltwater availability around the world. Two possibilities are the book Sources of Water by Rebecca Olien and pages 14-17 of Water by Alice K. Flanagan (both from our virtual bookshelf). This is an opportunity to differentiate instruction by providing texts at varied reading levels to match the needs of your students. After students read the text, they should update their lists to include any new sources of water and their rank in terms of size.

Lead a whole-class discussion in which students share their findings, reactions, and questions. Conclude this section of the explore phase by completing Activity One: Measuring Available Water Supplies of the Water Scarcity lesson.

Next, tell students that they will now investigate the second question, How does our water use compare with others’ use around the world? Read one or two of the profiles from Our World of Water: Children and Water Around the World by Beatrice Hollyer (from our virtual bookshelf) and discuss how they differ from students’ own experiences.

Next, have students return to their small groups where they will conduct research about water availability and use in one of the following countries: the United States, Norway, India, Australia, Kenya, Mexico, Brazil, and Germany. Using print and online resources, students should work collaboratively to answer the following questions:

  • What is the climate for the country? (For a large country like the United States, have students briefly describe how the climate varies from region to region.)
  • How much precipitation does the country receive? What patterns in precipitation exist within the country?
  • What are the major sources of freshwater for the country?
  • Is water pollution a problem?

Students will share their findings with the class in Activity Three: Do All Countries Have Equal Access to Water? of the Water Scarcity lesson.

Next, conduct the Activity Three: Who Gets to Use What? of the Water Scarcity lesson. This activity helps students visualize the amount of water an average person uses per day in the countries they researched. Following this activity, use the Wrap Up section of the Water Scarcity lesson to help students reflect on what they have learned. Ask students to return to their lists of water use and record ways that they can conserve water.

Explain

Have students demonstrate what they have learned by creating glogs (online posters) answering the unit questions: Where does our water come from? How does our water use compare with others’ use around the world? and Why is it important to conserve water? Student work might include images of freshwater and saltwater sources, images of people using water in various countries, and information about why water conservation is important. Note: If technology is limited, students could draw pictures or create paper collages instead.

Expand

In this phase, allow students to apply what they’ve learned to the real world. The article Take Action: Water Conservation provides resources that extend student understanding and allow them to put their new knowledge into practice.

Assess

Formative

Formative assessment can be conducted throughout the unit. Student participation in class discussions, activities, and research can provide evidence of emerging understanding as well as engagement in the topic. Activities should be modified to provide greater support or greater challenge as needed. Flexible grouping strategies can also be used during discussions to support student participation.

Summative

Students’ glogs serve as summative assessment. Student work can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for scientific accuracy and overall quality of work.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. Jessica is an education resource specialist at The Ohio State University and project director of Beyond Weather and the Water Cycle and Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears. She has taught in elementary and middle school settings. Email Jessica at beyondweather@msteacher.org.

Copyright February 2012 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1034922. 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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