Jump to this Activity »
Changes Ahoof: Could Climate Change Affect Arctic Caribou?

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Students run a simplified computer model to explore how climate conditions can affect caribou, the most abundant grazing animal in the Arctic.

Activity takes one 45-minute class period. Computer access is necessary.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Performance Expectation, 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 4 Cross Cutting Concepts, 6 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate impacts ecosystems and past species extinctions
About Teaching Principle 3
Other materials addressing 3c
Ecosystems on land and in the ocean have been and will continue to be disturbed by climate change
About Teaching Principle 7
Other materials addressing 7e

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:A) Organisms, populations, and communities
Other materials addressing:
A) Organisms, populations, and communities.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
Other materials addressing:
C) Systems and connections.

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 point out the relationship between the discussed variables and caribou population: When insect activity increases (i.e. mosquitoes), a loss of blood results in a decrease in caribou population. When snow levels increase, energy consumption increases and inability to escape predators results in a decrease in caribou population.
  • Educators should explain the relationship between increasing snowfall and arctic warming, which is counter-intuitive and not explained.
  • Students need to understand percent increase and decrease in order to complete this activity; an example calculation is provided.
  • Educators could add other resources that explain the effect of insects and snowfall on caribou population and discuss with students. See, for example: http://www.gi.alaska.edu/ScienceForum/ASF13/1344.html.

About the Science

  • Students explore the causal relationships between insect activity, which is affected by summer temperatures, and winter snow depth on caribou population.
  • Data output is easily accessible to most middle school students.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This is a great and exciting activity, although highly simplified it will serve the students and teachers with much needed models. It also introduces students to three major areas of concern- Population biology, phenology and climate change. Data sources or studies referenced in this activity have not been provided.

About the Pedagogy

  • Suggested assessment is to have students create a board game about seasonal migration with the conditions the caribou might encounter and the positive or negative effects.
  • Student activity sheet provided is well-constructed and easy to use.
  • Educator references show a sample data output as well as the results of all nine variable combinations.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Computer model is easy to use.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 1

MS-LS2-4: Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

MS-LS2.A1:Organisms, and populations of organisms, are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 4

Systems and System Models, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect

MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C7.3:Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.

Science and Engineering Practices: 6

Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

MS-P2.5:Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

MS-P3.5:Collect data about the performance of a proposed object, tool, process or system under a range of conditions.

MS-P4.1:Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.

MS-P5.1: Use digital tools (e.g., computers) to analyze very large data sets for patterns and trends.

MS-P6.1:Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict(s) and/or describe(s) phenomena.

MS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information (e.g. about a proposed object, tool, process, system) in writing and/or through oral presentations.

Jump to this Activity »