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NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory


5th, 6th, 7th, 8th


Science, Earth and Space Sciences, Mathematics

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  • Videos, 2 minutes, 18 seconds, CC
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Graphing the Rise in Earth's Carbon Dioxide

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  • This lesson plan prompts students to graph the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations throughout their lifetime.
  • There is an example of this exercise presented in a video in which a fictional NASA scientist's lifetime milestones are discussed and the atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements are displayed on a graph for each milestone.
  • Students also practice math skills as they calculate the percent increase in carbon dioxide concentrations between different points on their graph.
  • The lesson plan includes background information on atmospheric carbon dioxide, discussion questions, ideas for activity extensions, and links to additional resources on the topic.
Teaching Tips


  • The background information in the lesson plan links to reputable resources to learn more about climate change, which could be used in additional lessons.
  • This lesson helps make climate change relevant to student lives as they consider how carbon dioxide concentrations have changed throughout their lifetimes.
  • The video shows actions that an individual took throughout their career as a scientist to help the environment and the lesson plan prompts students to consider ways they could get involved.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should understand the concept of parts per million as the unit for measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.
  • Students should be able to plot points on a basic line graph and describe observable trends.
  • Students should be able to calculate percent change.
  • To prepare students for this lesson, it may be helpful to quickly review key parts of understanding a line graph such as the scale, points, titles, and axes.
  • The link to the optional resource for 1832-1958 data for Antarctic ice cores takes you to a data center with many data sets, not this specific one.


  • The lesson plan presents advanced data sets that students can analyze if they need a challenge.
  • Consider watching a video or reading an article on the historical causes of carbon dioxide emissions before completing this activity to help contextualize the data the students will be reviewing.
  • Consider having students review the change in the global temperature graph presented in the background information and describe the trend they notice and how it relates to the carbon dioxide graph.
Scientist Notes
This activity helps students conceptualize how much carbon dioxide levels have changed over their, and other, lifetimes. Students also will learn how carbon dioxide levels are measured and how they relate to climate change. This activity gives students hands-on practice with analyzing and interpreting real-world data. Additional resources are included as well as a video example of the project. The information presented is accurate and this resource is recommended for teaching.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • MS-ESS3-3 Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
      • MS-ESS3-5 Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.
      • 5-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.
  • Common Core Math Standards (CCSS.MATH)
    • Geometry (K-8)
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.G.A.1 Use a pair of perpendicular number lines, called axes, to define a coordinate system, with the intersection of the lines (the origin) arranged to coincide with the 0 on each line and a given point in the plane located by using an ordered pair of numbers, called its coordinates. Understand that the first number indicates how far to travel from the origin in the direction of one axis, and the second number indicates how far to travel in the direction of the second axis, with the convention that the names of the two axes and the coordinates correspond (e.g., x-axis and x-coordinate, y-axis and y-coordinate).
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.G.A.2 Represent real world and mathematical problems by graphing points in the first quadrant of the coordinate plane, and interpret coordinate values of points in the context of the situation.
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