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Mapping a Personal Story of Environmental Change

Arctic and Earth SIGNs, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, National Aeronautical Space Administration

This is a very simple but effective lesson that engages students with drawing a map of their local environment, then annotating their map with environmental changes they've observed. The activity taps into higher order thinking because students are synthesizing physical, cultural, environmental, and personal factors and expressing them in a graphical format.

The goal of this assignment is threefold: 1) Reflect on the connection between social and ecological parts of the earth system that we observe in our own lives, 2) Gain experience with mapping change and using maps for sharing both data and personal stories of climate change, and 3) Provide a starting point for gauging our collective experience thinking about climate change.

This learning activity takes one 45 minute class period

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Not all students will be able to make an observation of change in their personal environment, particularly young students. Additional guidance might be needed in these cases.
  • Instructors may consider providing visual examples of change over time within the local environment. Instructors should also be ready to discuss how various changes are related to climate change, or not. Some environmental changes are not related to climate but may be relevant nonetheless. The activity is flexible!
  • This lesson may be adapted for online learning, if students have access to paper and drawing tools (colored pencils, crayons, paint, etc.)

About the Science

  • The activity does not introduce any new science concepts, but instead it asks students to make observations and connections about environmental changes.
  • Several examples show the connectedness of physical attributes and cultural attributes of a location. For example, soil type and climate regime have a heavy influence on ecosystems and agriculture, which in turn relate to human development and culture.
  • Students learn the importance of maps through this simple exercise that relates the ideas of socioecological change to their everyday lives.
  • Maps can be used to explain stories based on our experiences and observations including scientific data. An example showing Arctic sea ice offers a good illustration of how data is used to generate a map.
  • The Arctic and Earth SIGNs project is an effort lead by the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Association of Interior Native Educators (AINE). This particular project/courses are funded by NASA but data sources are not clearly listed.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This resource clearly explains the importance of mapping in the context of climate change. It would be very helpful if there was a list of examples of ecological changes that one might record in their map. And from that list, an explanation of how climate change has impacted these ecological changes. The first map showing arctic sea ice should be updated, as it is from 2012 and there has been much change in ice coverage since then.

About the Pedagogy

  • This lesson is clear and well-organized including sections on NGSS standards, purpose, background information, basic assignment instructions. The activity is somewhat similar to concept mapping.
  • It includes a video that explains the assignment for visual and auditory learners and provides a few examples.
  • Activity is short and would make a good warm-up for first day of class or beginning of a unit.
  • While not data heavy, students will find this lesson engaging given that they are directly relating it to their every day lives.
  • Educators may want to wrap up the activity with a means for students to share their maps. A think-pair-share format would work, or a gallery walk. The activity would adapt easily to an online environment.
  • Extension activity: Interview an elder about what they have seen and what's important to them; draw a map together.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This free lesson is easy for students and teachers to use and requires internet access for the helpful Youtube video. Requires minimal preparation.

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