Teach About Climate Change With These 24 New York Times Graphs – New York Times
NOTE: Join us for our free webinar about teaching with graphs from The New York Times. Date: Wednesday, March 20 at 4 p.m. Eastern Time. Register here.
Climate change is a gradual process. If you simply measure air temperature, atmospheric carbon dioxide or sea-ice thickness in any given year, you won’t be able to see the full picture of how the planet’s weather patterns are changing. That’s why graphs showing change over time can be such a powerful teaching resource to help students better understand climate trends.
In this teaching resource, we have gathered 24 graphs previously published elsewhere in The New York Times that relate to climate change. In the first section, we discuss teaching strategies for using these graphs in the classroom. In the second section, we present a collection of graphs organized by topic: melting ice, rising seas, changing ocean temperature, changing air temperature, rising carbon emissions, impacts on humans, intensifying storms and contradicting attitudes.
Part I: Strategies for Teaching With Graphs
Each week in “What’s Going On in This Graph?,” we spotlight an engaging graph previously published elsewhere in The Times and pair it with a simple set of questions: What do you notice? What do you wonder? What do you think is going on in this graph? On Wednesdays, teachers from the American Statistical Association provide live facilitation in our comments section to respond to students as they post analyses and consider what story the graph is telling. Then, at the end of the week, we add an end-of-activity “reveal” that shares the original article containing the graph, highlights from the moderation, related statistical concepts and helpful vocabulary.
The philosophy behind our approach is to let students begin analyzing graphs with the skills they will most naturally and successfully use — simple noticing and wondering. From there, students can simultaneously build confidence and acquire new conceptual understanding. Over time, as their critical thinking skills develop and their vocabulary grows, students’ analyses become more sophisticated.
Below, we detail step-by-step instructions for how to adapt this approach to teaching with graphs to your classroom, and we provide examples from students who have participated in our weekly conversations about climate change-related graphs.
1. What do you notice?
In this Stats and Stories podcast, Sharon Hessney, the curator of “What’s Going On in This Graph?,” describes the benefits of the Notice & Wonder approach: “Noticing and wondering has a ‘low floor and a high ceiling.’ Every student can notice something in a graph. There are dots on it; it’s about different countries. As they hear each other’s noticings, they dig deeper. They’ll discover more by comparing and contrasting aspects of the graph and by relating these noticings to the world they know.”
So, what can simply noticing look like in action? Here are examples of what students noticed about the above graph about summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere.
I noticed that the graph is only focusing on the summer temperatures, and not the overall temperatures. The base year has a 29-year difference while the other years have a 10-year difference. The graph does not cover the years 1981-1982. — Deija Robins from California
I noticed that as the years go by, the mean or the center of the graph shifts farther to the right. This upward trend seems to be in a stage of rapid acceleration and I wonder if it will continue to increase at the same rate in the coming years. — Brooke Shalam from New York City
I noticed that as the years went on the temperatures became hot and extremely hot more frequently. I also noticed that the distribution of the temperatures starts as an approximately symmetric distribution and becomes skewed right over the years. — Chandler B from Georgia
2. What do you wonder?
Discussing what students notice and wonder, either online or in the classroom, is an important part of the learning process. Ms. Hessney recommends: “We think the best practice for doing ‘What’s Going on in This Graph?’ is first, for students to converse about what they notice and wonder either individually or in small groups, and then to discuss as a whole class. By hearing other people’s ideas, students form more and deeper stories from the graph.”
Here are examples of student wonderings about the same graph.
I wonder if the progressing extreme heat will affect our animals and even, human beings. Will this affect us in dangerous ways? For example, will we die from heat stroke, Will the water sources dry up and the animals die of thirst? These are my wonders for this graph. — Ruby Casey from New Hampshire
We wonder what “extremely cold,” “normal” etc. means in terms of temperatures. We also wondered if there were outliers at all. It seems like there were outliers on the hot side and then outliers on the cold side. We wonder if something similar is happening in the southern hemisphere and if this type of trend happens in the winter, too. We also wonder if these are actual temperatures and where was the data gathered — cities, country, novice weather people as opposed to trained weather people We think that global warming is being illustrated by this graph. — @mathteacher24 from Bethlehem, Pa.
CreditSource: Climate at a Glance, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
An essential part of our approach to teaching with graphs is that students don’t do their thinking in a vacuum. On The Learning Network, moderators from the American Statistical Association provide students with feedback on their comments. Plus, students get to read what others have to say, and have a chance to reply as well — whether they are in the same classroom or on the other side of the globe.
In the screen shot below, you can see a student, Madison from New Jersey, responding to Christian in Pittsburgh. One of the questions Madison asks is, “Are these the effects of naturally increasing temperatures, or the doing of man made emissions?”
4. What’s going on in this graph?
Just like photographs, graphs tell stories. After students have “noticed and wondered,” we ask them: What’s going on in this graph? What story can it tell?
Here are some examples of the comments students made about the above graph about winter temperatures.
This graph shows that although the average winter temperature in the US is not increasing at a steady rate, overall the temperatures are getting warmer with time. This is in favour of the discussion about climate change causing global warming. — Tatyana from New Zealand
This graph depicts how the winter temperatures from the 1900s differ from the 2000s. And how the temperatures are gradually getting warmer. This could be happening due to global warming or maybe how they say the sun is gradually getting closer and closer to our planet. — Matthew Laing from Philadelphia
From brief observations, I can conclude that this is a graph depicting the differences between the average winter temperature in 1900 and the present average winter temperature at the time. Because of this, I’m curious if an increase in air pollution, carbon dioxide, and deforestation is responsible for the overall increase of winter temperatures on Earth. This graph could capture how pollution and an increase of carbon dioxide within the atmosphere because the gas prevents small bits of heat from the sun from escaping the Earth’s atmosphere, forcing it to bounce back to the Earth’s surface as more thermal energy from the sun reaches our planet. A similar phenomenon has been present on Venus, which, due to the gases within Venus’ atmosphere capturing the majority of thermal energy from the sun, has made Venus the hottest planet in the Solar System. — Ben S. from Allen Tex.
5. Come up with a catchy headline.
This past summer Robert Lochel, a math teacher in the Hatboro-Horsham School District, mentioned to us that he always asked students to write a catchy headline after they were done noticing and wondering. We liked the idea so much, we added it to our weekly protocol.
Here are a few examples of students’ headlines about the graph above.
• “You Thought This Winter Was Cold? Check This Graph,” by Nathan of Virginia
• “Is Earth on the Hot Seat?,” by Kero K. and Jon I. from Hampton High School
• “Dreaming of a Green Christmas,” by Isaac from Hampton High School
• “Doomsday Deviation,” by Michael, Harper, Joseph and Owen from Hampton High School
Part II: A Collection of Climate Change-Related Graphs by The Times
The graph above illustrates how rising temperatures could affect ice cover across 1.4 million lakes in the Northern Hemisphere. It is one of scores of graphs related to climate change that The Times has published in the last few years. We hope that by collecting a selection of these graphs in one place, organized by topic and accompanied by links to the original Times articles, we are providing teachers with a valuable resource for teaching about climate trends.
With any one of these graphs, you can have students notice, wonder and do the sequence of strategies recommended above.
And here is one more teaching idea: Choose a handful of these graphs and ask students to select the one they think is most valuable for teaching the general public about Earth’s changing climate. Then they can explain why they selected that graph.
As Greenland Melts, Where’s the Water Going? | Each year, Greenland loses 270 billion tons of ice as the planet warms. New research shows that some of the water may be trapped in the ice sheet, which could change how scientists think about global sea levels.
In the Arctic, the Old Ice Is Disappearing | In the winter of 2018, the Arctic Ocean hit a record low for ice older than five years. Scientists say that summers in the Arctic may be ice-free in the future.
What Could Disappear | These 2012 maps show coastal and low-lying areas that would be permanently flooded, without engineered protection, with a five-foot sea level rise over the current level. Percentages are the portion of dry, habitable land within the city limits of places listed that would be permanently submerged.
Changing Ocean Temperature
How Much Hotter Is Your Hometown Than When You Were Born? | As the world warms because of human-induced climate change, most of us can expect to see more days when temperatures hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) or higher. See how your hometown has changed so far and how much hotter it may get.
How Does Your State Make Electricity? | Over all, fossil fuels still dominate electricity generation in the United States. But the shift from coal to natural gas has helped to lower carbon dioxide emissions and other pollution.
Migrants Are on the Rise Around the World, and Myths About Them Are Shaping Attitudes | Rising average temperatures are already pushing people from their homes in many middle-income countries, according to research by Cristina Cattaneo and Giovanni Peri, increasing migration from rural areas to urban centers and across borders to other nations. As warming continues in the coming decades, it will probably push people from agricultural areas to urban areas and from the global South to the richer global North.
As Climate Changes, Southern States Will Suffer More Than Others | As the United States confronts global warming in the decades ahead, not all states will suffer equally. Maine may benefit from milder winters. Florida, by contrast, could face major losses, as deadly heat waves flare up in the summer and rising sea levels eat away at valuable coastal properties.
The Story of 2018 Was Climate Change | David Leonhardt writes: “From year to year, the number of serious hurricanes fluctuates. But the last few decades show a clear and disturbing trend.”
How Americans Think About Climate Change, in Six Maps | This 2017 article reports that Americans overwhelmingly believe global warming is happening and that carbon emissions should be scaled back. But fewer are sure that the changes will harm them personally.
What graphs related to climate change would you want to see?
Students studying climate change might have other data sets in mind they would like to see graphed. For example, perhaps they are interested in retreating glaciers or regional changes in precipitation. You could have students research topics that interest them, find relevant quantitative data and create their own graphs.
We would love to hear about any climate change-related graphs your students create — or about topics you would like to see The Times illustrate in graphs. Post in our comments, or write to us at LNFeedback@nytimes.com — and if your students make some great graphs, be sure to send us photos too since we would love to show them off on our site and on social media.
Sharon Hessney helped to curate this selection of climate change-related graphs.