The Heat is On: Cause and Effect and Climate

California Academy of Sciences
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
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 lesson, students analyze different claims and datasets related to temperature change in a fictitious town, as well as around the globe. Although students work within the context of a fictitious town, the temperature and carbon dioxide data they analyze are based on empirical data and enable them to see relationships between global temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Students practice distinguishing between correlation and causation within the context of global climate change. Finally, students watch a video about how the burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and they begin to explore the connections between human activities and global climate change.


The authors state the activity should take 60-75 minutes to complete.

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
After reading the Solutionville Inquirer article provided in the lesson, students work in small groups to examine three hypotheses presented in the article which highlight the value of long-term empirical data versus short-term data or data that may represent a bias. The class discusses the criteria for a scientifically sound argument. Students apply this principle to information presented in the video “What’s the Deal With Fossil Fuels?” in a discussion of data correlation and causation. The student do not ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures, but the teacher could provide an opportunity for them to do so at the end of the lesson. The questions should focus on the major role that human activities play in causing the rise in global temperatures through the burning of fossil fuels.

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 distinguish between causal and correlational relationships in data throughout this lesson. First they complete a graphic organizer asking for possible causes of an event familiar to them and discuss cause and effect relationships. The activity focusing on the Solutionville Inquirer article presents three hypotheses of temperature rise in the fictitious town and students work in groups to distinguish between causal and correlational data. Students then watch a video about the connections between fossil fuels, carbon dioxide levels and climate change. Students are asked to brainstorm ways to test claims made in the video. Students should develop an awareness of bias and errors in data analysis through the discussion of the article and the video. The teacher should also ask students about the difference between correlation and causation in the information presented in the video to more completely investigate this Practice.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The lesson serves as an entry point into further exploration of this Disciplinary Core Idea as students discuss claims made in a video about fossil fuels, carbon dioxide levels and climate change. The teacher will have to provide additional investigations and data concerning climate change and reducing human vulnerability, such as the one reviewed on the NSTA Hub at The Additional Resources section of the lesson plan provides resources for addressing the impact of climate change on the human population.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The lesson focuses on distinguishing between causal or correlational relationships in the class discussions of both the article and the video. The third hypothesis in the article shows causation, while hypothesis #1 shows correlation, but not causation. Students discuss the concept that correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson focuses on the Science and Engineering Practice and the Crosscutting Concept of the relationship between causation and correlation in data. The Disciplinary Core Idea of global climate change is introduced, but the teacher will need to include additional resources to fully meet the Core Idea. See the resources mentioned in the Disciplinary Core Idea section above for activities to develop this concept further.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson engages students in an analysis of cause and effect and correlation through the use of a fishbone graphic organizer portraying an event from their own experience. They discuss cause and effect relationships with a partner and then as a class. While it is a fictitious account, the Solutionville scenario is meaningful and reflects the practice of science as experienced in the real world. The lesson uses scientifically accurate and grade-appropriate scientific information and representations to support students’ three-dimensional learning. Students express and justify their ideas and respond to peer and teacher feedback orally during discussions. The lesson doesn’t provide any guidance for teachers to support differentiated instruction or extra support for students who are struggling to meet the targeted expectations. The teacher may want to use the Matching Game activity described at to help students understand cause and effect relationships. Extensions are provided for students with high interest or those who have already met the performance expectations to develop deeper understanding of the Disciplinary Core Ideas.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Students use the Science and Engineering Practice and the Crosscutting Concept of cause and effect and correlation to begin to make sense of the Disciplinary Core Idea of climate change. Students complete an activity guide in groups of three with each member being responsible for one of the three hypotheses presented in the article. They draw a fishbone diagram to represent the hypothesis, share their individual results and determine as a group which hypothesis shows a cause and effect relationship. The teacher would need to collect student diagrams and notes to provide formative assessment in the lesson. No rubrics are provided, although some answers are provided in the teacher’s guide. The teacher should provide some form of individual assessment after the final discussion question (#10) in which students are asked about correlation and cause and effect relationships related to climate change. For example, they might ask individual students to draw the fishbone diagram for causes of increased carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: No technological interactivity is needed for the lesson, although the teacher will need to play the video for the students to observe.