Using the Very, Very Simple Climate Model in the Classroom

Windows to the Universe, National Earth Science Teachers Association
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Interactive Simulation , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Graph
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Through a simple interactive online model, students learn about the relationship between carbon dioxide emissions, carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, and average global temperature. The simulation predicts changes throughout the 21st century based on the level of carbon dioxide emissions chosen by the students. They develop and test a scenario using the model and read and interpret the graphs produced by the simulation. The model doesn’t address other factors related to global climate change (hence the very, very simple model).

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS3-5 Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Clarification Statement: Examples of factors include human activities (such as fossil fuel combustion, cement production, and agricultural activity) and natural processes (such as changes in incoming solar radiation or volcanic activity). Examples of evidence can include tables, graphs, and maps of global and regional temperatures, atmospheric levels of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, and the rates of human activities. Emphasis is on the major role that human activities play in causing the rise in global temperatures.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In Part 1 of this activity, students read an article and examine a graph showing global surface temperature trends over the last century as well as future predictions. They read about climate models as well as levels of accuracy and uncertainty in such models. In Part 2, students learn about the relationship between carbon dioxide emissions, carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere, and average global temperature using an interactive simulation. They test different scenarios of climate change by changing the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per year. To more fully address the PE, students should be encouraged to ask questions about the sources of the carbon dioxide and whether other gases in the atmosphere also play a role. Questions should also be asked about decreasing carbon emissions and why CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise if the same amount is emitted each year. Sources of greenhouse gases are shown in a pie chart in a link provided in part 2 -(, but it doesn’t address all the factors. Links to other webpages are available on the Windows 2 Universe website that explore other factors as other greenhouse gases being emitted, the cutting down of rainforests, etc.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students examine the impact of carbon dioxide on Earth’s average temperatures using a simulation. To fully meet the practice, they would need to examine sources of other greenhouse gases and other qualitative factors in climate change such as the impact of oceans on temperature, increasing human population, and so on. The website contains many links to informative pages that address these factors.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Part 1 of the activity addresses human activities, greenhouse gases and the rise in Earth’s global temperatures. In Part 2, students can manipulate the level of carbon dioxide emissions and see the resulting changes in Earth’s mean surface temperature. Actions that reduce the level of climate change and human vulnerability are addressed in links provided on the Windows2Universe website. Teachers may want to become familiar with the website prior to the lesson so students can be guided to links that focus on this Disciplinary Core Idea. A link to “Energy Choices and Climate Change” addresses the application of knowledge of climate change.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The cause and effect relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (a natural system) and the average global temperature is the focus of the interactive simulation and the readings. There are multiple causes of changes in average global temperature; this lesson focuses on carbon dioxide concentrations to simplify the model, but the teacher could lead the students to the exploration of the causes of carbon dioxide emissions, other greenhouse gases, and other possible factors involved in the phenomena of global temperature change. Discussions can also focus on the probability of various scenarios.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students are engaged in three-dimensional learning. Elements of the disciplinary core idea are significantly addressed through interactive activities as students examine carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. Use of the online simulation allows students to construct explanations. They focus on the crosscutting concept of cause and effect throughout the lesson.

  • Instructional Supports: The simulation engages students in meaningful scenarios that reflect the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experienced in the real world. The lesson presents material in an accurate manner appropriate for middle school learners. Students are asked to interpret and represent their ideas. It specifies the amount of time and materials required for carrying out the lesson. The readings may be a bit overwhelming for some students because it is not the type of material they are used to reading, so the teacher may want to provide support or use student collaboration in groups. The teacher notes give good questions to ask the students to help guide them in the lesson and thoroughly explains the simulation. No guidance is provided for differentiated learning, although the Extension activities can be assigned according to interest and ability.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson mentions measuring student understanding through the presentation of results from the simulation in reports, posters, or slides. This could be enhanced through the use of a rubric outlining the expectations of the presentations. A teacher could also ask questions of the students individually to probe for understanding.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The simulation is straightforward to use and provides numerous ways for students to manipulate it.