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NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory


5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Earth and Space Sciences

Resource Types

  • Lesson Plans
  • Charts, Graphs, and Tables
  • Worksheets

Regional Focus



Google Sheets, PDF, Microsoft Excel

Graphing Sea Level Trends

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  • This lesson plan outlines a graphing activity in which students use spreadsheet software to graph data to identify long-term trends in sea level rise.
  • By reviewing short-term data in small groups and then combining it and comparing it with long-term data, students are able to see how scientists examine climate change phenomena over decades and centuries. 
  • The lesson plan includes global sea level data in CSV files, a student activity sheet, background information, discussion questions, facilitation tips, and additional resources for teacher or student use.
Teaching Tips


  • Students act as scientists, using real world data to examine a global issue and identify trends.
  • The activity has students just examine one variable at a time, allowing for clear comprehension of the  trend in sea level rise due to climate change.
  • The background information provided is rich and extensive, allowing for the teacher to decide the best way to set students up for success in comprehending this global phenomenon.
  • This activity allows students to practice spreadsheet software skills, as well as graphing skills with a fairly simple dataset that illustrates a clear trend.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should have some basic experience with software such as Google Sheets or Excel and be able to navigate the program with proficiency to follow instructions for creating a graph.
  • Students should understand how the dates are coded within the sea level data, so be sure to review this and check for understanding before having students create their graphs.
  • You will not be able to download the data files in the Chrome browser.


  • Consider having students work in groups of four, ensuring that there is one student per group with proficient Excel or Sheets skills.
  • If your class is discussing the discussion questions, allow students time to chat and research ways to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions in their small groups before sharing out as a class.
  • If using this activity in a middle school classroom, consider asking for additional adult support from a librarian, technology teacher, or other adult who has graphing software skills.
  • If you would like to utilize this lesson without having students graph on a computer, consider completing the graphs yourself and pasting them into a paper booklet for students to analyze in different groups.
Scientist Notes
In this activity, students will use sea level observation data to learn how and why sea levels are rising and changing. The activity includes all necessary background information, data, and instructions. References are included if students want more information or have questions. Students will get hands-on experience analyzing scientific data, using graphs, and making observations and inferences about data. The information presented is accurate and this resource is recommended for teaching.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • 5-ESS2-2 Describe and graph the amounts and percentages of water and fresh water in various reservoirs to provide evidence about the distribution of water on Earth.
      • HS-ESS2-2 Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • HS-ESS3-5 Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.
  • Common Core Math Standards (CCSS.MATH)
    • Statistics & Probability (6-8)
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.8.SP.A.1 Construct and interpret scatter plots for bivariate measurement data to investigate patterns of association between two quantities. Describe patterns such as clustering, outliers, positive or negative association, linear association, and nonlinear association.
    • Statistics & Probability: Interpreting Categorical & Quantitative Data (9-12)
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSS.ID.B.6 Represent data on two quantitative variables on a scatter plot, and describe how the variables are related.
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSS.ID.C.7 Interpret the slope (rate of change) and the intercept (constant term) of a linear model in the context of the data.
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