Climate Science in Focus

National Park Service
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Unit , Animation/Movie , Field Trip , Project , Activity , Assessment Item
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 8 day unit, students are exploring topics including climate and weather, carrying capacity and animal adaptations, watershed and human influences on them, climate science data exploring streamflow, and information to schedule a field trip to work with a hydrology program or have a virtual tour of a National Park Service site. Students will create a final project explaining climate change in the Eastern Sierra. The link takes you to the first of the eight days of activities, Earth as a System. 

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • 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
Day 3: Watershed introduces students to two rivers, San Joaquin and Owens, in California. Students use interactive maps to see how water flows towards San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles. They look at a presentation which includes a graph illustrating snow pack values and peak flow of San Joaquin river. The discussion portion focuses on students thinking about what would happen to the ecosystem if there was more or less water. If not brought up in discussion, human use of water should be introduced.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
While not the practice suggested by the performance expectation, the end product of the unit, Day 7: Project Preparation, is students explaining what the future of the Eastern Sierras will look like due to human impact. Students are given many options to choose from on how to communicate their findings.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Day 1: Earth and a System and Day 2: Weather vs. Climate introduce students to the four Earth systems and how they interact to create weather and climate. Day 3: Watershed starts to introduce the idea of how humans can impact the hydrosphere. Day 4: Climate Science Data and Tools has students use an Excel file with monthly streamflow data from 1960-2012. They are instructed to also look at peaks and outliers. Students are asked to develop predictions of the causes for the peaks and outliers. While climate change and its influence on the melting snowpack are not brought up, this could be a topic that comes up through discussion. Day 6: NPS Connections has students explore what is happening to alpine mammals as a result of global climate change. Students watch a video and then develop a series of questions to ask a National Park Service worker during a Skype session.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Day 1: Earth as a System focuses on students defining what a system is and identifying the four systems/ spheres on Earth. This is done through a video with accompanying worksheet and discussion.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students are required to identify the parts that create a system and be able to communicate those ideas with others. This activity relies on students using evidence to identify the parts of the Earth System model. The final project requires that students use their knowledge of systems and interactions to make predictions about the future of the Eastern Sierras and their impact not only locally, but nationally. The lessons in the unit help to build a coherent understanding of how the watershed works and how changes would impact the watershed. The lessons help connect different science disciplines of biology and earth science using crosscutting concepts of cause and effect and system and system models.

  • Instructional Supports: Teachers are provided with lesson plans, including approximate timing, for the lesson. Easily downloadable worksheets for pre/post video questions and pre-assessment are included. Not provided are examples of student work. Some guiding questions are included for some portions of the unit in the procedure documents. Student differentiation examples are given as well as rubrics and guidelines for the gallery walk.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: While pre-assessment quizzes are available, the resource does not include guidance on what the outcome of the lessons should be. Teachers will have to determine what the intended outcome for each lesson is. There is a rubric included for the project.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: There is no interactivity but there are several videos from PBS and National Geographic which are used to guide students' knowledge. A log-in is required to view the PBS video.