Case Study: Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming: What is the Evidence?

Dan Shepardson
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Activity
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.



In this case study designed by the Purdue Climate Change Research Center, students interpret data about the link between the burning of fossil fuels, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global warming. Students answer focus questions and conduct an issues analysis using a graphic organizer to record information. The lesson is divided into three parts. The Engage portion asks about students’ prior knowledge of climate change. In the second part, students analyze scientific data in a case study of evidence of global warming and climate change. Data sources include the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency.  A Reflection section asks students the same questions as the Engage section. Pre- or post-assessment questions and a quiz are included.  

To access the activity, use the link provided and scroll down to "Case Study: Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming: What is the evidence?" Once there, you should see links to both the activity and the teacher guide. The lesson may take several class periods.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 6
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 8
  • 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 the Case Study, students analyze data in graphs showing the rise in global temperatures over the past century using IPCC temperature data, the past 1,000 years using proxy data, and the past 400,000 years using Vostok ice core data. The article states 160,000 years for the Vostok data, which can be found in another data set. The data in this activity goes back 400,000 years, so that statement is confusing. Students may require additional assistance in interpreting the graphs. For example, in Figure 8, students may think that temperature is related to the height of the buildings. Students investigate the question of whether an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is related to the rise in temperatures. They read about other factors including El Nino and La Nina effects and the Milankovitch cycles. The teacher may want to provide additional information about the Milankovitch cycle, using a resource such as The teacher could ask students to share questions they have as they answer the introductory questions or progress through the case study. These questions could be posted in the classroom and addressed as appropriate in the lesson. Questions could be grouped and displayed in the classroom to serve as driving questions for the class.

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 analyze and interpret data in eight different scientifically accurate graphs to provide evidence for phenomena of global warming and climate change. Focus questions link the data to the phenomena.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The Case Study provides information on how human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Students answer focus questions about the production of various greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide). Students read about and answer questions about carbon sinks, one of the ways to reduce the level of climate change. Information about how climate change is likely to affect various regions of the United States is included. The teacher should ask students to analyze the effects of climate change in their own area. Students could use resources such as to investigate recent changes in climate in these regions. To address the last portion of the Disciplinary Core Idea “Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities,” the teacher will need to ask questions and provide information from resources such as

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students investigate the cause and effect relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. They examine how the study of atmospheric carbon dioxide can be used to predict climate change. The activity does not address predicting phenomena in designed systems.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson builds understanding of grade-appropriate elements of the Disciplinary Core Ideas, Science and Engineering Practices, and Crosscutting Concepts. The inclusion of the three dimensions aids students in making sense of the phenomena of climate change. The Disciplinary Core Idea addresses how human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature. The Science and Engineering Practice of analyzing and interpreting data provide evidence for the phenomena of climate change. The Crosscutting Concept of cause and effect examines the relationship between greenhouse gases and climate change. The Engage portion of the activity asks students questions about their prior knowledge.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson engages students in authentic and meaningful scenarios that reflect the practice of science and engineering as experienced in the real world. Students examine phenomena in graphical representations gathered from various credible sources such as IPCC and NOAA. The representations are scientifically accurate and grade-appropriate. The lesson connects the students' home, neighborhood, community and/or culture to climate change predictions when the lesson focuses on various regions of the United States. This can be enhanced with local weather and news stories. It does not provide an opportunity for students to connect their explanation of the phenomenon of climate change to questions from their own experience. It provides opportunities for students to express their ideas in answering the focus questions and to respond to peer and teacher feedback orally during class discussions. The Issue Analysis Tool provides an opportunity for students to clarify and justify their thinking. The lesson is unbiased and accessible to students, although it does not provide guidance for teachers to support differentiated instruction. The teacher will need to modify the reading, the interpretation of graphical displays, and the writing of answers to the focus questions for students who are English language learners, have special needs, or read well below the grade level. The lesson plan does not include extensions for students with high interest or who have already met the performance expectations. Teachers could encourage these students to explore ways to reduce human vulnerability to climate change or to investigate how changes in human behavior could affect climate change.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson provides some support for monitoring student progress in the Issues Analysis Tool and the focus questions. It doesn’t elicit observable evidence of three-dimensional learning, as the questions focus on the core ideas, but not on the practices with and crosscutting concepts. Formative assessment opportunities are available, but not explicitly noted; the teacher would need to collect and assess student answers to the pre-assessment, the Issue Analysis Tool, and the focus questions. No rubrics or scoring guidelines are provided to support teachers in planning instruction and providing ongoing feedback to students. The lesson includes pre- and post-assessment measures that assess core ideas. The assessment items are not well designed as they don’t provide students with the opportunity to display analytic skills.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: No technological interactivity is required.