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Created by


Jun 25, 2021


45 minutes


6th, 7th, 8th



Resource Language:


Regional Focus



Google Docs, Google Slides

Earth’s Vital Signs: An Exploration

This lesson is an exploration of climate change data, including greenhouse gases, global temperature, ice melt, and sea level rise. 

Step 1 - Inquire: Students write down what they know about the four main greenhouse gases: water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

Step 2 - Investigate: Students collaborate in groups as they unpack data from NOAA, NASA, and other resources. Then students share their thoughts with the rest of the class.

Step 3 - Inspire: Students complete a written reflection.
Accompanying Teaching Materials
10 minutes

  • Teacher shares a photo of greenhouse gas molecules.

  • For one minute, students write down everything they know about the photo.

  • Students may write about:

    • Hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen.

    • Colors or quantities of each molecule.

    • Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) from going to the dentist.

    • What the letters and numbers mean in the molecular formula (e.g., H2O).

  • Students share what they wrote down with the rest of the class.

  • Teacher shares definitions from the glossary.

  • For one minute, students write about how these molecules relate to the Earth (land, ocean, air, etc.).

25 minutes

  • Teacher creates groups of 3-4.

  • Students explore the following resources. As they explore the resources, they will answer the guiding questions.

    • Group 1: Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (Source: NOAA)

    • Group 2: Trends in Atmospheric Methane and Trends in Atmospheric Nitrous Oxide (Source: NOAA)

    • Group 3: Global Temperature (Source: NASA)

    • Group 4: Daily Sea Ice Timeseries & Maps and Arctic Sea Ice Extent (Sources: University of Maine & NASA)

    • Group 5: Sea Level and Global Mean Sea Level (Source: NASA)

  • Guiding questions for the students:

    • What is this data telling us?

    • How is this impacting the world?

    • How does this data connect to the data that the other groups are investigating?

  • Each group of students shares their takeaways with the rest of the class.

10 minutes
  • Students complete a written reflection responding to the following prompts:

    • How is all this data connected?

    • How does it make you feel?
    • What should we do about it?

Teaching Tips


  • This lesson is all about curiosity and exploration. Students make meaning from all of this data collectively. This should be a very social activity as students share noticings, wonderings, and realizations with each other.

  • This can be a very hands-off lesson, as students guide their own learning and discussion.

Additional Prerequisites

  • You must copy the slideshow, share it with your students, and grant them editing rights. They will be writing in the slideshow during the lesson.
  • The data from these sources is always being updated.
  • There are other greenhouse gases that students will not explore. These are the fluorinated gases, "a family of man-made gases used in a range of industrial applications." (Source: EU Commission)


  • Seeing the extent of these numbers might cause feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, despair, or surprise in some students. Make sure to remind them that those feelings are normal and natural. Sharing those feelings with the class usually helps students feel better. Encourage students to share their honest reactions.

  • This exploration and these discussions might naturally lead into the “What can we do about it?” discussion.

  • These graphs are all unsustainable. It might be useful to use these graphs to better explain the concept of sustainability to the students.

  • Students should feel free to conduct research on their own to better understand their resources. For example, students can research sources of atmospheric nitrous oxide.

  • It is a good thing if students have more questions leaving this class than when they entered.

Scientist Notes

  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • 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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