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Investigating Climate Change Using Observed Temperature Data

Carla McAuliffe, Earth Exploration Toolbook, TERC

In this activity, students download historic temperature datasets and then graph and compare with different locations. As an extension, students can download and examine data sets for other sites to compare the variability of changes at different distinct locations, and it is at this stage where learning can be individualized and very meaningful.

Activity takes four to five 45-minute class periods. Computer access is required.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 7 Science and Engineering Practices


Regional Climates
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Measurements and Observations
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Grade Level

High School (9-12)
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College Lower (13-14)
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College Upper (15-16)
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  • Undergraduate: Appropriate in lab and as homework
  • High School: Appropriate as a way to access real-time data and teach the finer points of Excel.
  • Middle School: Teacher would need to create the Excel graphs and ask students to interpret. In this case, this resource is a tutorial for the teacher not a lesson for the students.

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate is not the same thing as weather – defining difference
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4b
Changes in climate is normal but varies over times/ space
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4d
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b
Meteorology and climatology are related but different sciences, and their processes are modeled and forecast differently
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5d

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
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E) Organizing information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:F) Working with models and simulations
Other materials addressing:
F) Working with models and simulations.
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.

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

  • This is a great tool for teaching Excel as a tool, accessing important real-time data, and creating awareness about changing climate conditions.
  • Students should work in small groups.

About the Science

  • Activity has students access format graph and compare historical temperature data for different locations around the world to observe regional differences in climate change.
  • Excellent use and application of science data with a problem-based scenario.
  • Suggested resources for further study are current and good for given grade level.
  • The activity was updated in 2012, but the online datasets are updated continuously so students can use most recent data.
  • Comments from expert scientist: It will give a view to students of the climate variability and trends, the differences in these between different climatic zones. It will allow students to make their own conclusions on possible warming, and its geographical distribution. It builds the mathematical expertise of the students, and allows the use of Excel to work on the trend, changes in Celsius to Fahrenheit, side-by-side comparisons.

About the Pedagogy

  • Good organization of learning materials and a logical learning sequence leads students to analyze and understand complex data sets.
  • The instructions are clear, thorough, and well-written but they do require focus. The step-by-step structure of the data access and analysis parts of activity might be difficult for some students to follow easily.
  • The case study provides good background information for students and teachers.
  • Excellent 'going further' activities for advanced students.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The 'show me' feature that helps students through problems and procedures using software is exemplary.
  • Some undergraduate and most high school students will need support and guidance with data access and analysis steps.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 1

HS-ESS3-5: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

HS-ESS2.D1:The foundation for Earth’s global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy’s re-radiation into space.

HS-ESS2.D4:Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere.

Science and Engineering Practices: 7

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, 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

HS-P1.2:ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.

HS-P2.1:Evaluate merits and limitations of two different models of the same proposed tool, process, mechanism or system in order to select or revise a model that best fits the evidence or design criteria.

HS-P3.5:Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated.

HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

HS-P5.4:Use simple limit cases to test mathematical expressions, computer programs, algorithms, or simulations of a process or system to see if a model “makes sense” by comparing the outcomes with what is known about the real world.

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

HS-P8.3:Gather, read, and evaluate scientific and/or technical information from multiple authoritative sources, assessing the evidence and usefulness of each source.

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