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# Inquiry-Based Math Lesson Plans

When you think about teaching climate change, do you immediately think of science lessons? While it’s extremely important for students to be exposed to climate change lessons in science classes, climate change touches nearly every aspect of life on Earth, so climate change topics should be taught in all academic subjects…including math!

Math teachers have all heard (or made) jokes about being “forced” to learn math skills that have no practical application; that’s why tying math skills and concepts to real-life topics is so important! SubjectToClimate has pulled together a list of ten inquiry-based math lesson plans that will help students see that math is integral to solving the climate crisis. In these lesson plans, students will encounter a range of climate change topics such as equitably distributing natural resourcesdeciphering data on air pollutioninterpreting quantitative survey results, and calculating sea level rise based on glacier melt. The following lesson plans are designed for teaching math topics to students in grades K-12, and these resources are sure to get students asking questions and making connections between math and climate change.

## Go Fish!

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Math, Social-Emotional Learning

Resource Type: Lesson Plan, Activity, Video

Math Objective

Students will develop the skills to do division problems by using greater than, less than, or equal to skills as well as counting, addition, and subtraction.

In this hands-on lesson, students will learn about the importance of sharing finite resources. The teacher provides students with a communal bowl of goldfish and tells them to pass it around and take as many crackers as they would like. When they are finished passing the bowl, students count and record the number of goldfish they took from the bowl. Students discuss whether or not the crackers were shared equally and then work together to create a plan that will evenly distribute the goldfish.

This lesson plan is sure to keep young students motivated and engaged, as fairness is a relevant and often contentious topic for younger children! Unlike direct instruction math lessons, where the teacher would demonstrate how to divide the crackers equally, this lesson relies on inquiry-based learning giving students the chance to problem-solve on their own. After the students have come up with a solution, teachers can guide the discussion to address the finite nature of Earth’s resources, explaining how these resources should also be shared equally.

Students’ solutions will vary widely depending on their skill level. Kindergarten students will likely need a little prompting and redirection as they try to figure out how to share the crackers, while second graders may arrive at a solution quickly.  The discussion questions provide additional scenarios that more advanced students and early finishers can begin to ponder if they come up with their solution before their classmates have finished.

This student-centered lesson will give learners a chance to see how math applies to issues in the real world and to reflect on how humans can share water, land, and other resources that we all need to survive and thrive on Earth.

## How Does Your Garden Grow?

Subjects: Science, Biology, Math

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

Math Objective

Students will practice measuring, comparing sizes, ordering objects by length, and determining the differences in size between two objects.

In this hands-on SubjectToClimate lesson, students investigate a small portion of the schoolyard to discover what lives and grows there, and then they will work together to answer the questions: “Why are plants important for the Earth and for people?” and “What do plants need to grow?” Then, students will create their own classroom garden, recording and predicting plant growth (the lesson plan includes a Plant Growth Journal that can be printed or used digitally).

This fun project-based lesson will get students moving, measuring, and hypothesizing. Teachers will appreciate that the lesson provides tips for differentiation; for example, students can use standard units of measure or objects such as blocks to measure plant growth. More advanced students can graph the growth of their plants. On top of that, the lesson teaches students about important science topics such as what plants need to grow, ecosystem services, and the importance of biodiversity.

Teachers can use this math inquiry lesson in conjunction with a science unit on plants and extend the lesson to include a discussion about community gardens and natural resources. Teachers should allow at least 2 weeks for students to observe and measure plant growth.

## Timber!

### Grade: 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Biology, Math

Resource Type: Lesson Plan, Game, Worksheet

Math Objective

Students will use addition, subtraction, and doubling skills, create a line graph with data that they collect, and analyze and interpret the data.

In this lesson, which is available in Spanish and English, students will play a game to observe the effects on a forest over time, based on its starting population of trees and the rate of deforestation. Students will work collaboratively in groups of four to complete the role-playing game. The lesson includes a chart for students to fill in as they play the game.

This lesson gives students the chance to play a game in small groups and make independent conclusions about supply and demand. The discussion questions require students to think critically about the problem of deforestation and consider the use of natural resources from a mathematical perspective.

Teachers can use this lesson to bring together social studies, science, and math concepts. Because the lesson feels like a game, it could be a fun Friday afternoon activity that has the added bonus of teaching students about overpopulation, natural resources, and sustainability, all while giving learners a chance to hone their math skills!

## Count the Trees

Subjects: Science, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, Math

Resource Type: Lesson Plan, Worksheet

Math Objective

Students will use multiplication, division, and rounding to solve word problems.

In this math lesson, students learn about greenhouse gas emissions and why they are harmful to the Earth. Students will solve word problems that address emissions from electricity use, food production, transportation, plastic production, and clothing.

This practical lesson combines climate science concepts with word problem practice, giving students a chance to see real-world applications of the math problems. If you are unsure about your own understanding of how trees help fight climate change, the background information on greenhouse gas emissions in the teacher’s guide will help you get up to speed. The lesson plan also includes linked sources that provide student-friendly information on carbon sinks and carbon sequestration.

Sometimes word problems use silly scenarios (who needs 75 apples?!) that make it hard for students to connect to the question. These word problems, on the other hand, are highly relevant and will help students see how their personal actions impact the climate and how many trees they would have to plant in order to counter the greenhouse gas emissions they produce.

## Earth: Apple of Our Eye

Subjects: Science, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, Math

Resource Type: Lesson Plan, Activity

Math Objective

Students will be able to visualize proportions as well as the division or halving of fractions.

This lesson plan on food production and agriculture centers around a demonstration that uses an apple to show students the small fraction of Earth's land that can be used for farming. The demonstration is followed by discussion questions and a follow-up activity.

This lesson explains how deforestation and over-farming lead to soil erosion and land degradation, and it also challenges students to think about how humans will continue to feed the growing population while protecting forests and keeping the topsoil healthy. As students discover how little of Earth’s land is arable, they come to understand how fractions can be applied to real-world situations.

Before cutting the apple, teachers could have students predict what fraction of the Earth is used for farming and then compare the students' predictions to the actual fraction. Teachers could also provide students with a manipulative, such as a piece of clay or a paper circle, so that they can divide the “Earth” up while following the teacher’s explanation. Teachers could have students track the fractions on a guided worksheet during the demonstration.

## So How Should We Get There?

Subjects: Math

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

Math Objective

Students will use addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division by rational numbers to solve one-step and two-step equations. They will also utilize estimation, logic, problem-solving skills, reasoning skills, and algebraic thinking as they interpret data.

In this lesson, students will work in groups to explore different travel options to get them from New York City to six other cities. Groups will calculate the miles, cost, time, and CO2 emissions for each option, and then discuss the results and explore ways to decarbonize our transportation system.

This inquiry-based math lesson allows students to interpret the data and reflect on personal and societal views to draw conclusions that are based on more than numbers. As students calculate each step, they will be able to think about how these calculations connect to their own experiences with transportation.

This lesson provides the opportunity for students to interpret their solutions to compare costs and emissions between different routes and transportation methods.

## Climate Change Survey

Subjects: Social Studies, Math

Resource Type: Activity, Lesson Plan, Worksheet

Math Objective

Students will design quantitative and qualitative survey questions, and then interpret trends about the data they collect by calculating percentages.

In this unique lesson plan, students learn about unbiased surveying techniques and design their own climate change opinion survey.  After they collect their data, students summarize their results and draw conclusions.

This lesson plan gives students the chance to think about the importance of designing a survey so that the results can be quantified and interpreted. Students will learn about Likert scales, multiple choice, and ranked choice questions, and they will see how these types of questions can produce data that is easier to interpret than qualitative questions. Teachers can also use this lesson as an opportunity to discuss the importance of having a representative survey sample. Students can then reflect on whether or not the population they surveyed is diverse or large enough for them to make generalizations based on the results.

This lesson can be extended in several ways. Teachers could have students create pie charts or bar graphs to include with their reports. Students who are ready for a more challenging activity could practice interpreting national data using the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication’s Decoding the Data activity.

## Thermal Expansion & Sea Level Rise

### Grade: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Physics, Math

Resource Type: Video

Math Objective

Students will use algebra and geometry skills to: solve a one-step equation for the coefficient of thermal expansion, use the formula for the volume of a cylinder, and interpret graphs.

This video lesson teaches students about thermal expansion and how it relates to climate change-induced global sea level rise. This video is packed with valuable information, but it moves very quickly. Teachers may want to pause at certain intervals to give students time to process the information and perform calculations. See below:

Intervals

›57 seconds: Check for understanding and discuss the equation for the coefficient of thermal expansion.

› 3 minutes, 2 seconds: Have students brainstorm and share ways to calculate the change in volume before the video explains the method.

› 3 minutes, 59 seconds: Have students think about how they can solve for the coefficient of thermal expansion and try to calculate the answer.

› 6 minutes, 33 seconds: Have students think about how to determine sea level rise based on the change in volume.

› 7 minutes, 2 seconds: Have students solve for the sea level rise due to thermal expansion if the temperature was .3°C and .4°C.

› 7 minutes, 41 seconds: Have students make observations about the bar graph.

› 9 minutes, 4 seconds: Ask students what the graph shows; have a volunteer come to the board to draw or indicate the trend line of the graph.

This lesson uses great visuals and shows a step-by-step demonstration that explains thermal expansion. Students will combine math skills with physics concepts to better understand why rising global temperatures are already causing sea levels to rise. Combining concepts and skills from a number of academic disciplines and applying them to a real-world crisis will make an impact on students.

## Plotting Trends – Environmental Justice in Chicago

### Grade: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Geography, Math, Justice, Health

Resource Type: Lesson Plan, Interactive Media, Worksheet, Video, Data

Math Objective

Students will collect data and use it to graph a scatter plot, then they will analyze the data and graph a trend line to explain their conclusions.

In this environmental justice lesson, students will use an interactive map of Chicago to explore the relationship between population burden and environmental burden. The resource includes a video, student worksheet, teacher guide, and links to additional preparation articles and information.

Teachers will appreciate the fact that students work with real data in this lesson, which makes the results of their analyses more meaningful. The student pages are well-designed, with space for recording and graphing the data. The thought-provoking discussion questions will get students thinking deeply about the data and what it means for the city of Chicago. The teacher pages include an answer key and provide more information on environmental justice and air pollution in Chicago.

This inquiry-based math lesson will likely take more than one class period for students to have ample time to discuss and reflect on the results of the activity. If your students are not familiar with graphing a trend line for a scatterplot, consider showing them this video

## The Math Behind Sea Level Rise

### Grade: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Math

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

Math Objective

Students will estimate the surface area of irregular shapes and spheres, calculate volume, and estimate density to find the total sea level rise that would be caused by Antarctica melting. They will also apply formulas, convert percentages to decimals, and convert units.

In this SubjectToClimate lesson, students use geometry to investigate the question: "How much would sea levels rise if Antarctica melted?" This challenging and fun lesson utilizes a range of geometry skills and is rooted in the context of glacial melting.

Teachers will appreciate the fact that students work with real data in this lesson, which makes the results of their analyses more meaningful. The student pages are well-designed, with space for recording and graphing the data. The thought-provoking discussion questions will get students thinking deeply about the data and what it means for the city of Chicago. The teacher pages include an answer key and provide more information on environmental justice and air pollution in Chicago.

This inquiry-based high school math lesson will likely take more than one class period for students to have ample time to discuss and reflect on the results of the activity. If your students are not familiar with graphing a trend line for a scatterplot, consider showing them this video

These math lesson plans use an inquiry approach to bring climate change topics into your math class. As students learn how math is highly useful in solving real-world problems like the climate crisis, they will become more invested in building their math skills. Be sure to check out the SubjectToClimate database to find even more math-focused climate change resources.