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Changes in Our Local Environment

Alaska Seas and Rivers Curriculum, Alaska Sea Grant

In this activity, students research changes to the environment in the Arctic/Bering Sea over time using oral and photographic histories. Developed for Alaska Native students, this activity can be customized for other regions.

Activity takes 9 to 11 class periods with possibility of some of this accomplished as outside work.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 7 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate change vs. climate variability and patterns
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4c
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b
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

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
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.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.3 Humans and Their Societies:B) Culture
Other materials addressing:
B) Culture.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:B) Places
Other materials addressing:
B) Places.

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 lesson is easily adaptable for other communities in the world.
  • Instructor may want to provide students with a scoring rubric that outlines science and research content.
  • The research project/interview and presentation can be tied together by inviting the elders and other community members to the school to see the finished posters or student work. (A similar step is done in the evaluation and extension of curricular connections)
  • Reviewing the differences between weather and climate at the beginning of the activity is highly recommended.
  • Community-based and could be combined with community mapping projects.

About the Science

  • Comments from expert scientist: activity treads the line between cultural and scientific knowledge, and in doing so places equal weight on personal interpretation of observations. Very little actual data-driven science is involved, but that's not the point.
  • Activity certainly bridges the gap between climate change as a phenomena and cultural knowledge, and if pulled off could be very interesting at both educating the students and the community at large.
  • The photo project especially has good potential to make climate change "real" to a young group of kids.

About the Pedagogy

  • This is an open-ended inquiry based activity.
  • Students gain expertise in interview techniques and comparing historic environmental photos with recent photos. There is a great deal of support for the teachers and students in terms of interview and photo comparison techniques. These are some of the techniques being employed by scientists today to explore changes in climate.
  • Uses the 5E/ inquiry model.
  • Builds writing and communication skills.
  • Students interact with elder and community members in a non-teaching situation and learn how to interview people.
  • Nine to eleven class periods is a long time to spend on such a project, but there are many skills being learned and explored in these open-ended activities. In addition, it may be possible to decrease the class periods needed by encouraging students to complete much of the work as homework or an out-of-class project.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Several of the resource links listed in the activity are no longer functional.
  • Historic photos may need to be collected and scanned in if possible. There are video and image resources available but teachers and students will probably need to find some local historic images and scan them in.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

MS-ESS3.D1:Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 6

Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C1.2: Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural and human designed systems

MS-C1.3: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships.

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

MS-C3.5:Phenomena that can be observed at one scale may not be observable at another scale.

MS-C7.1: Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and forces at different scales, including the atomic scale.

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

Science and Engineering Practices: 7

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

MS-P1.1:Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

MS-P1.4:Ask questions to clarify and/or refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem.

MS-P1.6:Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of the classroom, outdoor environment, and museums and other public facilities with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis based on observations and scientific principles.

MS-P3.2:Conduct an investigation and/or evaluate and/or revise the experimental design to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence that meet the goals of the investigation

MS-P4.4:Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena.

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

MS-P8.3:Gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and methods used, and describe how they are supported or not supported by evidence.

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