Environmental Literacy and Inquiry Working Group at Lehigh University
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Graph , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Numerical/Computer Model
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.



“Paleoclimatology” is Day 15 in a larger unit from Environmental Literacy and Inquiry in which  students use a timeline to explore global temperature changes. In this activity, students investigate how climate has changed in the last 715 million years. They examine and interpret global temperature, carbon dioxide concentration, and ice cover data to infer what the global climate was during a specific time period and relate that evidence to the current global warming discussion.


This should take students 1 period to complete, but may require more time for students that struggle with graphing. Students will need internet access to view the Geology Timeline.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 12
  • Grade 11
  • Grade 10
  • Grade 9
  • High School
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

HS-ESS3-6 Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of Earth systems to be considered are the hydrosphere, atmosphere, cryosphere, geosphere, and/or biosphere. An example of the far-reaching impacts from a human activity is how an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide results in an increase in photosynthetic biomass on land and an increase in ocean acidification, with resulting impacts on sea organism health and marine populations.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include running computational representations but is limited to using the published results of scientific computational models.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
As students gather data using the web-based interface, they answer questions about causes of increased temperature and CO2 concentrations during specific time periods (100 Ma, 1880, and 2010). When students read the text associated with the Exploration Images, they discover that 100 Ma underwater volcanic activity released CO2. In the two later dates, they discover that human activity through burning fossil fuels has contributed to increased CO2 levels.

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 use data obtained in the web-based interface to develop two scientific claims answering the questions: “What pattern do you observe between CO2 and temperature?” and, “Have humans always contributed to the global warming of our planet?”

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students are instructed to create a graph of the change in CO2 levels over the nine identified time periods. To further support the Disciplinary Core Idea, a more accurate representation should be created. The scale for time periods on the provided graph in the Student Exploration worksheet is not accurate. Having students create a graph without using the provided scale would increase the accuracy. Supplemental readings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change can be given to students to supply additional evidence concerning atmosphere/ biosphere interactions and resulting modifications due to human activity. To address how the ocean and biosphere interactions are being modified in response to human activities, teachers could incorporate the following activities: The Ocean-Carbon Connection ( and Earth’s Dynamically Changing Climate (

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
In Question 4 of the Geologic Timeline Exploration Sheet, students are asked to identify what contributed to the increased temperature and CO2 concentration between 1880 and 2010. Students are asked in Analysis Question 7 to describe the pattern they observe between CO2 and temperature and support their claim with evidence. While students are not tasked with identifying cause (increased CO2 due to burning fossil fuels) and effect (increased temperature) in this question, teachers could reframe the question to have students use the pattern to identify causality of the increased temperature.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students investigate the phenomena of changing global climate. They examine global temperature, carbon dioxide levels, and ice cover on a map to determine that levels have changed. Students try to determine the causes of changes to these levels over time. Students are engaged in using the Science and Engineering Practice of Analyzing Data and the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns to make sense of the Disciplinary Core Idea of Weather and Climate when they are answering Analysis Questions 7 and 8. Students examine global temperature, CO2 concentration, and ice cover data to draw their conclusions about the relationship between global temperature and CO2 concentration and causes of changes to CO2 concentration (both natural and manmade).

  • Instructional Supports: Students use data, as presented in the web-based interface, to make sense of global climate change over time. Students do not have opportunities to respond to peer feedback in the activity. Student’s prior knowledge is not identified in the instructional resources. The activity uses scientifically accurate and grade-appropriate information. There are some suggestions for differentiated instruction to help struggling students but no suggestions are given for students with high interest.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Teachers would need to reframe many of the questions by incorporating Cross-cutting Concept language to elicit direct, observable evidence of three-dimensional learning. Formative assessments are embedded in the activity. It would be up to the teacher to develop any rubrics or scoring guidelines. The Exploration Sheet Assessment can only be accessed with a password. Student proficiency is assessed using methods that are accessible and unbiased.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students will need internet access to use the web-based interface to access information for each of the nine time periods.