Unit Plans: We Study Earth’s Climate

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 a unit plan 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.

Grades K-2 and 3-5

Summary of Purpose for the Unit
This unit is designed to provide elementary students with the opportunity to investigate how scientists study the Earth’s climate. It uses hands-on experiences and nonfiction text to answer the question How do we learn about Earth’s climate?

One unit plan is provided for both grade bands. Teachers can modify the experience by selecting lessons and books that best support their students.

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)

  • Changes in the Earth and Sky

Earth and Space Science (Grades 5-8)

  • Structure of the Earth System

Science and Technology (Grades K-4)

  • Understanding about Science and Technology

Science and Technology (Grades 5-8)

  • 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.

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.

8 – Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

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

Read the first page of the Feature Story, How Do We Study Climate?, to students. Draw an outline of two suitcases on the board. Label one suitcase Antarctica and the other Hawaii. Ask students to name the types of clothing they would pack for either trip. Write their ideas inside the outlines of the suitcases. Ask students to explain their thinking. How do they know what types of clothes to pack? When students tell you that it is cold in Antarctica and warm in Hawaii, explain that what they are talking about is climate. Use the definition provided in the Feature Story to introduce the term to students. Introduce the unit question, How do we learn about Earth’s climate?

In this phase of the unit, engage students in hands-on experiences that simulate the types of instruments scientists use to study climate, as described in the article Collecting Climate Data. The number of activities you include depends on the age of your students and your time frame for the unit. Primary students (grades K-2) should focus on collecting data with weather stations, while upper-elementary students may be ready to also investigate weather balloons, satellites, and buoys. You may also wish to have students watch some or all of the videos highlighted in Video Clips about Collecting Data. Finally, students may confirm what they’ve learned through the hands-on activities by reading books from the We Study Earth’s Climate: Virtual Bookshelf.

Begin this phase by finishing the Feature Story, How Do We Study Climate? You can conduct a mini-lesson about determining importance, a skill described in the article Evaluating in Reading and Science. Primary students might be asked to identify the main idea of the Feature Story, while students in grades 3-5 could practice identifying important ideas and interesting details in the text.

Finally, have students share what they’ve learned in the unit by writing a paragraph in response to the unit question. Students should include evidence from their hands-on investigations, any books that they’ve read or videos that they’ve watched, and the Feature Story. They should also be encouraged to include diagrams or drawings of the instruments they’ve learned about. Teachers wishing to incorporate technology could make these blog posts or VoiceThreads instead of paragraphs.

Ideally, this phase is determined by student questions throughout the unit. Some possibilities for further exploration include

  • Asking questions about the local climate that can be answered through data collection and research
  • Learning about past climates and how scientists study past climates
  • Participating in real data projects about weather and climate

This unit provides opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment
Formative assessment should be conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.
  • Listening to students as they determine importance while reading the Feature Story will help determine how much support they need with this comprehension strategy.

Summative Assessment
Students’ work for the final assignment serves as summative assessment for the unit. Student work can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for scientific accuracy, use of vocabulary, 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 September 2011 – 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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