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Sustainability Lesson Clearinghouse

Hot or Cold - Global Warming

Lesson Description:
Objectives: students will be able to…
  • Explain how heat and energy transfer in and out of the atmosphere, and its involvement in climate change.
  • Describe how the environment could be affected by global warming.
  • Explain how climate change affects living organisms in hot and cold climates.
  • Measure and record changes in temperatures and analyze the data.

Overview: While there is still some disagreement about global warming, many scientists believe it is the result of changes in the earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere creates a blanket that surrounds the earth. Sunlight passes through the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to reach the earth’s surface and is absorbed. Once this energy is absorbed it goes through various natural processes, such as photosynthesis, and is re-released back into the atmosphere. Some of the energy escapes the atmosphere, but a considerable amount becomes trapped by the greenhouse gases and causes the earth to warm in temperature. This is known as the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is naturally occurring and vital to our survival. Without it earth would not be warm enough to sustain life. However, many scientists believe the growth of industry and urbanization has had a direct impact on the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in an unhealthy build up greenhouse gases.

The general consensus about global warming points in one direction and it seems that evidence of the serious challenge it presents can be directly attributed to human activity. Carbon dioxide, the gas released during the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas heads the list of emissions that are damaging the atmosphere. This is followed by methane, which is released primarily from landfills, mining operations and gas pipelines, chlorofluorocarbons, which have also been found to contribute to ozone depletion, and nitrous oxide, that comes from fertilizers and other chemicals.

Eco-fact: the average temperature of the earth is approximately 57° Fahrenheit. If we did not have the benefit of the greenhouse gases the average temperature would be somewhere around -2° Fahrenheit.

Before conducting the lesson:
  • Introduce the terms: Global warming, greenhouse gases and greenhouse effect. Explain to students the importance of greenhouse gases to the earth’s environment and how man’s actions have affected these.
  • Describe some of the effects scientists believe global warming may have on the earth’s climate.
  • Using a scenario similar to those listed below, guide students in a discussion of possible climate change to their local area. Ask students what they think might happen if such a change should occur. How do does change in temperature affect living organisms?
    • Coastal regions, islands and low-lying areas will become more vulnerable to storm surges.
    • Mountain regions where heavy snows store most of the fresh water supplies, may find that less of a snow pack will make fresh water less plentiful.
    • The northeast may face the disappearance of its maple trees and other plant and animal species that require colder temperatures and variable seasons.
    • Farmlands may experience longer growing seasons, but may face more insect problems.
    • Bays and estuaries may increase in salinity as the ocean levels rise and diminish shellfish beds.
    • Offshore breeding grounds may warm to the point that lobsters and other species may migrate to colder waters.
  • Explain to students that they are going to conduct an investigation on temperature change. Distribute the “global warming-hot or cold” observation charts provided below.

Using a thermometer:
  • Provide each student with a thermometer. Explain that a thermometer is an instrument used to measure temperature.
  • Identify and describe the parts of the thermometer and their purposes:
  • The bulb: the receptacle at the base of the thermometer that acts as a reservoir for the red liquid.
  • The column of red liquid: this moves in an upward or downward direction in response to temperature change.
  • Scale: a numeric scale indicates the temperature in degrees. The two scales used to measure temperature are Fahrenheit and Celsius. For purposes of this experiment measurements will be taken using the Fahrenheit scale.
  • Demonstrate how to read the thermometer. Caution students to not take the reading until the red liquid has stopped movement.

Temperature Change: Hot or Cold:
  • Explain to students that they will take temperature measurements at various locations and times during a one-week period and record the data on the “global warming:hot or cold” observation chart provided below. some of these measurements will be taken in school and some will be taken at home.
  • Create a class size chart similar to the “global warming-hot or cold” observation chart, making the appropriate heading to correspond to the following questions. ask students what the current temperature is inside the classroom and record their response on the chart. have several students place their thermometers in the sunlight for 1-2 minutes. then have them read the thermometers and take an average temperature. record it on the chart.
  • Have the class record the temperature of the air in classroom on their charts under the shade heading. allow the remaining students to place their thermometers in the sun and record that reading. instruct students to take their charts and thermometers home, take and record the appropriate reading each day for one week.

After conducting the lesson:
  • Compile the data collected. record the average temperature for each area on the class chart.
  • Discuss the results of the experiment.
    • What places were hot? what places were cold? what places were of a moderate temperature?
    • What can be said about the amount of heat energy in the freezer compared to the amount: in the refrigerator, in the sunlight, in the shade, near the heater? (areas with more heat energy have higher temperatures, and areas with less heat energy have lower temperatures.)
    • Did the temperature in each area remain constant during the week? if not, what might have caused the change? was the change an increase or decrease in temperature?
    • How can we relate what we have learned about temperature change to global warming? how might global warming and climate change affect living things? (if the temperature of an ecosystem changes, the organisms living there will either adapt, migrate, or die. when one or more species leaves an area it can cause a chain reaction, affecting other organism that may rely on it for food.)

Adaptations: For younger students this lesson can be done as a whole group activity, taking the measurements in school each day.

Extensions: Students can convert the °Fahrenheit temperature results from their observation chart to °Celsius.

Lesson Type:
  • Experiment

Sustainability Topic:
  • Climate Change
  • Energy

GEF Program Category:
  • Green Energy Challenge

Time Needed:
30 minutes, daily observations for one week period, 20 minute follow-up lesson
Standards Addressed:
Science Standard 1: Understand atmospheric processes and the water cycle.
  • Benchmark # 2: Know that the sun provides the light and heat necessary to maintain the temperature of the earth.

Science Standard 9: Understand the sources and properties of energy.
  • Benchmark # 1: Know that heat is often produced as a byproduct when one form of energy is converted to another form (e.g., a rise in Earth’s temperature as a result of co2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.)

Science Standard 12: Understand the nature of scientific inquiry.
Benchmark # 3: Plan and conduct simple investigations.
  • Benchmark # 4: Use appropriate tools and simple equipment (e.g., thermometers) to gather scientific data and extend the senses.
  • Benchmark # 5: Know that scientists’ explanations about what happens in the world come partly from what they observe and partly from how they interpret their observations.

Geography Standard 16: Understand the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution and importance of resources.
  • Benchmark # 1: Know the characteristics and uses of renewable resources and non-renewable resources (e.g., burning fossil fuels result in CO2 emissions.)

Geography Standard 18: Understand global development and environmental issues.
  • Benchmark # 4: Know how human-induced changes that are taking place in different regions and the possible future impacts of these changes (e.g., CO2 emissions from developed countries like the us may result in global warming.)

Materials Needed:
  • Unbreakable thermometers, one per student
  • "Global Warming: Hot or Cold” observation chart provided

School or Group:
Contact Email:
Lesson Documents:
application/pdf global warming lesson.pdf
Lesson Documents:
application/pdf hotandcold_lesson.pdf

The Sustainability Lesson Clearinghouse is brought to you in partnership with

Center for Green Schools