Jump to this Activity »
California Climate and the Atmosphere

Laura Wharton, Annette Brickley, Challenger Center for Space Science Education

In this 3-part lesson, students explore California climate and factors that are leading to changes within this climate system. Students begin by exploring California's climate and the state's topography. Next, they investigate coastal versus inland climate. Finally, they use My NASA Data to explore the effects of El Niño/La Niña on two locations found at the same latitude.

Activity takes two to three 50-minute class periods.

Discuss this Resource»
Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate is determined by the long-term pattern of temperature and precipitation averages and extremes at a location. Climate descriptions can refer to areas that are local, regional, or global in extent. Climate can be described for different time intervals, such as decades, years, seasons, months, or specific dates of the year.
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4a
Climate change is a significant and persistent change in an area’s average climate conditions or their extremes. Seasonal variations and multi-year cycles (for example, the El Niño Southern Oscillation) that produce warm, cool, wet, or dry periods across different regions are a natural part of climate variability. They do not represent climate change.
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4c
Scientific observations indicate that global climate has changed in the past, is changing now, and will change in the future. The magnitude and direction of this change is not the same at all locations on Earth.
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4d
Scientists have conducted extensive research on the fundamental characteristics of the climate system and their understanding will continue to improve. Current climate change projections are reliable enough to help humans evaluate potential decisions and actions in response to climate change.
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5e

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
Other materials addressing:
E) Organizing information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

The earth has a variety of climates, defined by average temperature, precipitation, humidity, air pressure, and wind, over time in a particular place.
Explore the map of concepts related to this benchmark
The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming.
Explore the map of concepts related to this benchmark

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Educators should spend time familiarizing themselves with the three lesson parts well before they decide to use this in class. Parts one and two could be done in middle school but Part three is more difficult. Will take more than two class periods.
  • Educators should be confident in understanding content on La Niño and La Niña and what the ENSO is, prior to starting. While the lesson is well organized, some assumptions are made that teachers understand these concepts.
  • Educators can flip flop sections as they see fit.

About the Science

  • Since California's climate is driven by a series of complex systems that produce various microclimates across the state, the lesson serves as a learning tool to understand climate systems around the world. In this activity, students begin by reading an article then analyzing weather data and building a quick model. The concepts of El Niño and La Niña are presented as variables impacting the weather system. Students are asked to compare these two variables along with satellite data.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • Well-organized and attractive worksheet for students. The different parts of the activity are well-integrated. Using two different data sets for students to record and analyze is a strength. A rubric is provided.
  • Lesson addresses content systematically, though level of complexity are more suitable for for high school science classes.
  • Students should have prior knowledge of El Niño and La Niña, and understand how to read and interpret satellite data and anomalies on graphs.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Excellent background materials for teachers. A good series of additional references and resources are provided.
  • A big file to download

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN


Jump to this Activity »

Have you used these materials with your students? Do you have insights to share with other educators about their use? Please share with the community by adding a comment below.

Please use this space only for discussion about teaching with these particular materials.
For more general discussion about teaching climate literacy please use our general discussion boards.
To report a problem or direct a comment to the CLEAN project team please use our feedback form (or the feedback link at the bottom of every page).
Off-topic posts will be deleted.

Join the Discussion

Log in to reply