It is no longer up for debate that we have increased global temperatures to a dangerous threshold by burning fossil fuels and destroying natural systems. The future generations of students are inheriting a world gripped by rising temperatures, extreme natural events, and rising sea levels. Vulnerable communities, who have often contributed the least to CO2 production, will face the most severe consequences of increased global temperature. We need to start building our understanding of how our lifestyles influence global systems and prepare to create a sustainable future for humanity.
Here in West Michigan, we are seeing firsthand the challenges brought upon by rising temperatures and shifting natural systems. Fluctuating lake levels, record warm winters, and intense spring flooding are only the start as we approach a dangerous threshold of global temperature increase. Climate change can feel complex and overwhelming, even for adults, however we can offer activities for your students to help them grasp the basic causes, effects, and solutions. This page includes resources and lesson plans for your classroom to start reconciling with the realities of climate change and begin to build a sustainable and equitable future.
Weather and Climate Introduction - 1 hour guest presentation or virtual lesson
The foundation of understanding climate change is differentiating between our weather and climate systems. Qualified WMEAC staff are available to lead your class through a 1 hour presentation about the basics of weather, climate, and how they influence our local environment in West Michigan. This presentation is available in person or virtually.
A Carbon Cycle Journey - Classroom Activity
In this activity your students will take the place of a carbon atom as it cycles through our environment and moves from the atmosphere to the oceans, lithosphere (rocks) and biosphere (living things). Moving from station to station, your students will create a pipe cleaner bracelet by collecting colored beads at each carbon sink. After creating a bracelet that represents natural conditions, students will cycle through the activity again to simulate the carbon cycle post-industrial revolution. This activity presents complex concepts such as carbon sinks and anthropogenic climate change in an engaging, mobile, and creative way for your students. All materials are provided including: perler beads for each sink, pipe cleaners, dice for transitioning stations, and a follow-along worksheet to compare and contrast both bracelets.
Carbon Footprint Calculator - Classroom or Virtual Lesson
A carbon footprint is defined as your personal contribution to global CO2 emissions. This visually appealing and easy-to-use online calculator by Global Footprint Network will guide you through your energy use, diet, transportation, and waste management to determine your personal contribution to climate change. It offers solutions to reduce your ecological impact and rework your resource use to a sustainable level.
Check it out here at: www.footprintcalculator.org
Virtual Sea Level Rise Calculator from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - Classroom or Virtual Lesson
This virtual mapping tool from NOAA allows you to model sea level rise along the coast of the contiguous United States and the Hawaiian Islands. This map applies elevation and census data to identify high risk areas that are especially vulnerable to this consequence of climate change. The national scenario projects 1 to 10 feet of sea level rise with varying confidence.
NOAA also provides local examples along critical areas of the coast. These local examples provide projections of sea level rise out to the year 2100 under five degrees of climate change severity: extreme, high, intermediate high, intermediate, and intermediate low. Your students will be able to compare and contrast the changes in sea level rise across the five scenarios or determine when an area will reach a certain amount of rise depending on the degree of severity.
Check it out here at: https://coast.noaa.gov/slr/
Materials are appropriate for 5th – 8th grades.