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Lesson Plans

PBS Student Reporting Labs STEM lesson plan: Climate change and your community

June 7, 2016

Full Lesson


Ninety-seven percent of scientists currently agree that global surface temperatures have increased over recent decades and that these trends are almost certainly due to human activities. How has climate change impacted your community?


Science, social studies, government

Estimated Time

1-2 50 minute classes

Grade Level



  1. Watch the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs video above about students who are working to restore wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Area. What human activities have threatened the wetlands? What ecosystem services do wetlands provide? What are students doing to restore the wetlands?
  2. Read this PBS NewsHour Extra article about the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. What does “anthropogenic” mean? Why are the corals bleaching at an alarming rate?
  3. Brainstorm ways in which your community impacts the environment. Some examples may include widespread vehicle use, chemical overflow in rivers and streams, use of coal-fired power stations, littering and deforestation. Check your local and state news websites to learn about specific issues. As a group, decide which factor is the most serious contributor. What can your class do to help remediate the issue? Discuss.
    • For example, here’s an article from a local Virginia newspaper discussing an environmental concern for the Alexandria community: a coal-fired power station.
  4. Visit the website of your state’s environmental agency. Research the biggest environmental concerns in your state. How do they compare to the concerns that your class brainstormed? In addition, research the laws and regulations that your state government is issuing to address these concerns. How effectively do you think your state is addressing environmental problems?
    • For example, Virginia has passed regulations for the disposal of ash from coal-fired power stations.
  5. Find out who represents you in your state legislature, U.S. Senate, and House of Representatives. Research your legislators’ positions on the environment. What environmental bills have they supported? Do your legislators’ views reflect yours?
  6. Contact your elected officials–a directory of information can be found here. Write them a brief email arguing your position on the environment, your views on their environmental record, and your recommendations for future policy.

Extension Activities:

  • Find out how climate change is impacting areas far from where you live. Choose one of the following regions: the Florida Everglades, coral reefs, or Alaskan glaciers. Read the PBS NewsHour article linked. How is climate change affecting each region? How are human activities related? Share with your peers.
  •  Calculate your carbon footprint. Talk to your family about your household’s energy use. How many acres of land are required to absorb the CO2 emissions that you are responsible for? If every one of the 7.4 billion people in the world lived according to your lifestyle, how many Earths would be required? Earth has 36.48 billion acres of land.

Amanda Wilcox, a graduating senior at T.C. Williams High School in Virginia, will attend Wake Forest University in the fall. She wrote this lesson with NewsHour’s education editor, Victoria Pasquantonio.