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Global Atmospheric Change

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, Barbara Tharp and Judith Dresden

Earth's Energy Sources

Global warming, ozone depletion, skin cancer risk . . . all of these themes appear frequently in the news. Yet, there are many misconceptions about them. This unit allows students to explore the science behind energy use and changes in the atmosphere. At the same time, students learn basic physical and earth/space science concepts related to light and electromagnetic radiation, the atmosphere, fossil fuels and combustion.

Students also learn about the carbon cycle, the role of carbon dioxide in living systems and the important role of skin in protecting living organisms.

Finally, students have opportunities to integrate their knowledge through explorations about the greenhouse effect, climate and alternative energy sources.

Overviews of the science content covered in each section of this guide can be found in the one-page Physical Science, Life Science, and Environment and Health Basics overviews. The introduction to each activity also provides a summary of science concepts covered.

This pre-assessment is designed to allow you, the teacher, to estimate students’ existing knowledge about these topics before beginning the unit. It also can be used for self-assessment by students once the unit is completed.


Global atmospheric change affects ecosystems, water, energy, transportation, agriculture and human health. The impacts differ from region to region and will grow under projected climate change. (Source: U.S. Global Change Research Program.)


  1. Initiate a class discussion about sources of energy and energy use. Ask questions such as, What is the source of energy for your family’s car? What about for your computer? Where does the energy we need come from? To build awareness, have students make a class list of the many different ways in which they rely on energy each day.

  2. Follow by asking, Do you think our uses of energy affect the environment? Tell students that they will find answers to these and other questions over the next few weeks.

  3. Give each student a copy of the pre-assessment. Have students complete the pre-assessments individually. Tell students that they will not be graded. Rather, they will use the pre-assessments to gauge how much they have learned over the course of the unit.

  4. Collect completed pre-assessments and save them. Students will refer back to their answers at the conclusion of the unit.

Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932

Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education