Grades 5-6 Activity Guide

Climate Change in My Backyard Unit Descriptions

Unit 1: The Earth as a System

In Unit 1, students assess their current knowledge of and beliefs about climate change. They then begin to explore the various Earth systems that create climate, including the Earth's energy balance and the greenhouse effect. They learn what the natural and human causes are of greenhouse gas emissions and explore how the sun's energy, greenhouse gases, and the Earth's surface interact to moderate global average temperature. They use a NASA data analysis tool to model different energy and greenhouse gas scenarios.

Unit 2: Identifying the key changing conditions of the Earth system

In Unit 2, students learn about the difference between weather and climate. They then look at historical temperature cycles using paleoclimate data, more recent historical climate records, and current changes in temperature. Then they expand the climate model beyond temperature to look at changes in precipitation and cloud cover in the United States. The unit continues by having students compare regional climate changes with overall global trends to identify similarities and differences in climate by region. Students recognize that climate change does not affect all areas of the globe equally or in the same ways. The unit concludes with a persuasive essay asking students to apply what they have learned about climate and climate change.

Unit 3: Earth system responses to natural and human-induced changes

In Unit 3, students learn about how living things and ecosystems respond to and are affected by changing climates. Students learn about how plant life-cycle events can be used to understand climate and how they have been used in the past. They participate in Budburst, a national citizen science project, and study how changing climates impact the timing of plant life-cycle events. Students also explore the interactions between plants and pollinators and how those interactions can be affected by climate.

Unit 4: Predicting the consequences of changes for human civilization

In Unit 4, students learn that individuals have a role in climate change ("are you bigfoot") that climate change affects people in different ways ("faces of climate change"), that climate change has many types of impacts ("impacts of climate change"), and that these impacts are different for countries and people around the world. Students begin the activity by calculating their ecological footprint. In a role-playing game, students take on the situations of people around the world who are being affected by changing climates in different ways. They then consider how their own personal actions contribute to climate change and investigate in more detail its specific impacts on ecological systems and human civilization. Students then choose a region of the world and investigate how this country or area has been affected. Students present their research to the class. The unit concludes with student reflections on what they have learned about climate change, how it has changed their attitudes, and whether they will make any personal changes as a result.