Empowering the Future: Integrating climate science into a middle school energy curriculum

Empowering the Future: Integrating climate science into a middle school energy curriculum

by Jennifer Bamesberger


This module was designed to be a segment of a yearlong, interdisciplinary middle school course at Watershed School in Boulder, Colorado.  In our three-year curriculum rotation, students use our local community as a case study to investigate how humans meet our needs for food, water, and energy in an increasingly global society.  In the Empowering the Future course, students consider the Principle of Energy Awareness as articulated by the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network: Being aware of the role of energy in the Earth system and human society allows us to take actions to conserve, prepare, and make informed energy choices.  As we revised our Empowering the Future curriculum for its second iteration, we decided to place more emphasis on Earth’s climate system so that students can better understand why energy use is such a timely and important topic.  This module expands the focus on the energy-climate relationship from a single reading and discussion about the greenhouse effect into a more comprehensive series of lessons that lay the groundwork for understanding climate and how it is affected by our energy choices.


Designed for students in grades 6 - 8; requires 7 or 8 one-hour class periods.  See our course in action on our class web site.  Attend our end-of-semester celebrations in which students share what they've learned on December 15, 2012 and April 13, 2013.


Through this module, students will understand how Earth’s climate is shaped by energy from the sun and heat-trapping atmospheric gases.  They will understand that these forces are natural, necessary to life, dynamic, and influenced by human activity.


Students will write and revise an explanation of the connection between an animation of annual cycles of CO2 levels and vegetative growth and a graph of the Keeling curve. Their revised explanation will show evidence of a more nuanced understanding of how CO2 influences Earth’s average temperature and will make a clear connection between human use of fossil fuels and rising levels of atmospheric CO2.   Developing understanding will also be documented through lab reports, quizzes, posters, participation in discussions, and reflective journal prompts.

Download module plan here

© 2012