How do we know the world is warming?

Introduction—How do we know the world is warming?

Summary: What is climate change? How do we know it is happening? The resources in this topic guide provide an overview to the topic of climate change. Simple explanations and analogies are presented so that students can articulate a big picture view of the issue, with the recognition that these models have been developed based on evidence collected from complex scientific research throughout a number of disciplines. Subsequent sections of the OCEP Climate Change module explore some of these factors in greater depth.

Concepts to teach:

Crosscutting Concepts Disciplinary Core Ideas Science Practices
Stability and Change ESS3.D – Global Climate Change Asking Questions, Analyzing and interpreting data, Engaging in argument from evidence


  1. Global climate change is caused by human activities that add excess greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; namely the burning of fossil fuels.
  2. Scientists interpret patterns to construct explanations and come to evidence-based conclusions.
  3. Climate change affects the ocean.
  4. Climate change affects all of us, no matter where we live.

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Define “global climate change”
  2. Explain how scientific data provide evidence of global climate change
  3. Describe relationships between the ocean and the global climate

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Ten Signs of a Warming World—This NOAA Climate Program Office webpage can be used to explore a variety of indicators that help scientists understand that the world is warming. Download a Power Point presentation to use in your classroom. Each topic slide is link to online data. Many of the examples show specific relationships to ocean systems.

  • The Very, Very Simple Climate Model—This lesson plan is from NESTA Windows to the Universe. Students use an online model to graphically visualize and predict the relationship between CO2 emissions and average global temperature.
    • Notes from CLEAN (Climate Literacy & Energy Awareness Network) about using the model
  • Reading: How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate by L. Cherry and G. Braash – Described as “a non-scary book about Climate Change Science and Solutions for grades 4 -8”, this book introduces readers to more than 40 climate scientists and their research, and offers practical suggestions that empower students to become citizen scientists and contribute toward solutions.
    • Review of this book from NSTA Recommends


  • Interpret a graph from the Warming World Interactive power point and describe how the data serve as an indicator of climate change. What are the limits of the data? What other information would be helpful to have?
  • Pick a scientist from the How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate book and read about his/her research. Relate the researcher’s activities to one or more of the eight NGSS Science and Engineering Practices [link]
  • Describe three ways the ocean is affected by global climate change.
  • Explain “global climate change” in terms a layperson can understand, using one or more of the following: 1) oral presentation, in less than one minute, 2) one written paragraph, or 3) an infographic