Lesson Plan

Where Have All the Glaciers Gone?

#STEMchallenge What is the evidence for climate change?
Donna M.
Classroom teacher
Vista Visions Academy
Vista, CA
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My Grades 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
My Subjects Science, Health & Wellness
EdTech Mentor

Students will be able to...

  • Understand how calculations can be performed on data expressed as maps, such as averaging or subtracting.
  • Observe changes in snow and ice over a 10-year period and draw conclusions about trends indicated by the observations.
  • Explain how environmental conditions (temperature, precipitation and albedo effect) impact glacial mass budget, identify where snow accumulates in a glacier and justify why. 
  • Explain or illustrate (demonstrate) how glaciers stay at equilibrium, grow/advance, shrink/retreat, and form and compare climatic conditions leading to each.
  • Use claims, evidence and reasoning to predict what climate changes the future holds.


English Language Arts
Grades 6 - 12
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Engage

Brainstorm either as a class discussion or have students complete a KWL, 

What do you know about glaciers? 
Why are they disappearing
What effect is this having on global climate?

To begin to answer these questions, students examine how snow and ice cover have changed on the Earth from 1994 to 2004, and can practice using some of the data analysis tools available at My NASA Data. Introduce the depletion of glaciers and snow pack around the world by showing or having students explore on their own, the images linked below.

Younger students can use the NASA Kids Club Site about climate change.   Students graph authentic data detailing the area of ice sheets and  rising of water levels to compare the differences over time. Additionally, you may wish to use the Global Ice Viewer  to visually compare the change in  ice sheets around the world for the past 25 years.

More advanced or older students, may wish to use the My NASA DATA website, Studying Snow and Ice Changes.

Rather than providing answers, this activity sparks questions such as, 

  • Why are the ice sheets shrinking?
  • What is the global effect of shrinking ice sheets?
  • What can we do to slow it down or stop it?

2 Explore

PhET Simulation: Glaciers is an interactive simulation developed at the University of Colorado. It requires teachers to register in order to access the support materials, although it is free. (This simulation is a website and it is written in HTML 5 which enables students to access it on computers, iPads, and Chromebooks.)

In this simulation, students explore some of the causes and effects of increasing global temperature, determine the environmental factors that affect the size and motion of  glaciers and explain how greenhouse gasses influence the temperature of the earth.

In the Teacher Resources, there is an activity,  "Investigating Climate Change at the Macroscopic and Microscopic Level."   This activity provides a student sheet and step by step directions to explore the interactive simulation, "Glaciers." Students explore some of the causes and effects of  increasing global temperature, determine the environmental factors that affect the motion and size of glaciers and explain how greenhouse gases influence the temperature of the Earth. 

3 Explain

Show the Ted-Ed video: Why the Arctic is Climate Change's Canary in the Coal Mine - William Chapman

After the video, if students have a 1 to 1 device, they can click on the "Think" Portion of the website and answer the 5 multiple choice and 6 open answer questions to solidify their understanding of the information presented in the video. Alternatively, the questions can be shown to the whole class and have students answer them independently.

Use the "Climate Education for K-12," site from North Carolina State University for a graphical representation explaining the albedo effect. Although it discusses the effects in North Carolina specifically, generalizations can be made regarding the effects nationwide and worldwide.

Other short videos that may be helpful in increasing student understanding include:

NASA: Ice Albedo Feedback Causes the Loss of the Sea Ice

NASA: How is Albedo Related to Global Warming?

NASA: This World in Black and White

4 Extend

The National Geographic Homework Help website has an activity, "What is the Future of Earth's climate? - Using Models to Make Predictions," to extend student learning about climate change. Students look at data and extrapolation models to make predictions about the future. The pages in this activity include:

  • Complex climate models
  • Time lags in temperature changes
  • Meet a climate scientist: Mark Chandler
  • Societal effects
  • Millions of years of data
  • How much reduction?

Time Magazine: Evidence for an Arctic Climate Feedback Loop  This article further explains the Arctic climate  feedback loop for students who want to learn more about this model.


5 Evaluate

Google Drive
Free, Paid

Students write an essay or give a speech making a claim about future climate change, using claims, evidence and reasoning.  Google Docs on Google Drive is a good tool to use to write the essay or speech because student work is automatically saved and it can be accessed from any device with an internet connection. In a flipped classroom, Voicethread may be used as a presentation tool. Students can record their speech and hand it in or play it for the class, rather than presenting it in person. The essay or speech can be rubric scored, evaluating students' use of claims evidence and reasoning ability.