Earth and Atmospheric Science

This overview outlines a series of sessions and activity options to support your planning to deliver the Key Stage 4 programme of study Earth and Atmospheric Science alongside other curriculum areas. With a specific focus on scientific thinking and a secure understanding of Earth systems and processes, learners can appreciate how the Earth’s atmosphere is essential to life, along with the human causes of climate change.  Learners will explore the both the impacts of climate change and some ways we can respond positively together.

Royal Meteorological Society climate change content quality mark

Unit of learning
KS4

Sessions

Prior Knowledge

What do you already know about the Earth’s atmosphere?
Choose an activity to review the connection between human activity and climate change. Promote an equitable approach to learning by valuing students' experiences of, or feelings about, the topic content. For instance, feelings about recent extreme weather events.

Explore

How are data used to investigate the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change? 
This session supports students to understand how the greenhouse effect results from the interaction of radiation with matter, and how this has resulted in changing climate over time. Choose an activity that enables learners to explore data and evidence for changes in temperature and climate, that put current global warming into context.

Enquire

How do scientists use models to predict the future of climate change? 
Provide learners with the opportunity to explore how scientists model climate and deal with the uncertainties in future scenarios, drawing on scientific skills of accuracy, precision, probability, repeatability and reproducibility.

Making Change

How can potential effects of increased greenhouse gases on the Earth’s climate be mitigated against? 
Students explore a range of ways in which impacts of increased greenhouse gases on Earth’s climate are being mitigated, including assessing risk and environmental implications. Within this session, learners can recognise the importance of communicating and sharing strategies of mitigation to different audiences, supporting both hope and action. 

Communication

How can we ensure that different needs are taken into consideration when responding to climate and ecological challenges? 
Learners have the opportunity to reflect on their understanding of climate change and the underpinning Earth and Atmospheric Science, considering how decisions can be made based on evidence and arguments. It is important to promote critical thinking and discussion, drawing on different perspectives.  
 

Step by step

Developing a deeper understanding of the processes that drive climate change will allow learners to understand the complexity of the system and why scientists use models to make predictions about future climate change, with associated uncertainties.

When learning about climate change, along with the broader ecological crisis, it is important that learners are given space to share their emotions and are supported to develop coping strategies and actions to protect their mental health and wellbeing. This can include developing an understanding the ways that they can come together with peers to make changes at a local level through projects like the National Education Nature Park or other schemes, as well as how they can advocate for change at a higher level.

Curriculum Links

Chemistry

Earth and atmospheric science

  • The composition and evolution of the Earth’s atmosphere since its formation. 
  • Carbon dioxide and methane as greenhouse gases.

Geography

Changing weather and climate

  • The spatial and temporal characteristics of climatic change and evidence for different causes, including human activity, from the beginning of the Quaternary period (2.6 million years ago) to the present day. 

Citizenship

  • Use a range of research strategies, weigh up evidence, make persuasive arguments and substantiate their conclusions. 
  • Experience and evaluate different ways that citizens can act together to solve problems and contribute to society.    

Common misconceptions

Pollution, ozone depletion or natural variation causes climate change
Learners can be supported to understand the relationship between carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, global warming and climate change.

Plastic reduction and recycling are separate issues to climate change. 
Learners can be supported to understand that waste plastics that are not recycled often end up in oceans and rivers where they release greenhouse gases as they slowly break down.

Key Concepts  

Earth’s atmosphere – Since Earth formed, billions of years ago, the composition of the atmosphere has changed from mostly carbon dioxide to mostly nitrogen and oxygen.

Global warming – The long-term heating of Earth’s surface observed since the pre-industrial period due to human activities.

Climate change – A large-scale, long-term shift in the planet's weather patterns and average temperatures.

Further Activities and Opportunities

Watch this 9-minute video from the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report:

Preview image for the video "IPCC Sixth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report - French sub-titles".

Learners of this age group could be tasked to create their own video communicating climate change science, or related social issues, ensuring it is relevant and engaging to peers.

Recommended Books 

BookTrust recommended
A Time Traveller’s guide to Life, the Universe and Everything by Ian Flitcroft. In this quirky, fantastical graphic novel, Albert Einstein is at your service to guide you through time and space on a beam of light and answer all the questions you ever wanted to ask about life, the universe and everything.

Royal Meteorological Society recommended 
30-second climate by Joanna Haigh. An immediately accessible guide to the 50 key factors affecting Earth's climate, past, present and future, each explained in half a minute. From atmospheric circulation to zero carbon, this is the quickest way to know your planet.