Resource Type
Completion Time
About 1 period
High school and Up
Download, Share, and Remix
Kim Young
Related Members
Handout - Student Field Journal
Optional: Immersive viewers
Tools and Methods
General Environmental Studies
General Polar Science


This lesson plan transports students to two field sites outside of Fairbanks, Alaska to investigate the interconnected relationships between climate change and permafrost. Students will use authentic field data from site photographs, soil temperature, and thaw depth measurements to draw inferences. An ESRI StoryMap, faux field journal, and 360 site images are used to engage students in the inquiry.


  1. Students will learn about methods of collecting data in polar science.
  2. Students will understand compounding impacts of forest fires on the Alaskan boreal forest.
  3. Students will use data to draw inferences about the positive feedback loop between permafrost thaw and climate change.

Lesson Preparation

Prior to completing this lesson plan, students need introductory understandings of:

  • Permafrost
  • Climate Change
  • Carbon Cycle
  • Scientific Method
    This lesson plan is best done with 1-1 or 1-2 technology access; either through tablets or laptops. It does not require immersive viewers but does include 360 elements for teachers who are familiar with the technology.


  • The teacher should serve as the guide on the side monitoring student progress, asking probing questions, and clarifying instructions as needed.
  • Spend ~5 minutes at the beginning of class going over assignment instructions and materials.
  • Allow ~40 minutes for student exploration of the ERSI StoryMap and site data; working individually, in pairs, or groups.
  • Bring the class back together to debrief sharing ideas and larger connections made as part of the activity.


Ideas for extension activities after this lesson plan:

  • Further investigation of the role of winter respiration in the Arctic and Woods Hole Research Center’s Soil Respiration Station measurements. What is the “permafrost time bomb”?
  • Permafrost Tunnel
  • Social impacts of thawing permafrost – infrastructure, population displacement


This lesson plan designed to be used in a World History class, but is easily transferable to Earth and Environmental Science classes. Given its student-centered approach, it can also be used in informal education settings. Informal educators may have more opportunities to utilize the immersive elements of the lesson plan or give student hands-on experience with how soil temperature and thaw depth data would be collected.


  1. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, “Boreal Forest in Alaska”
  2. 360 Tour of Permafrost Tunnel
  3. BBC, “Inside the Permafrost Tunnel”
  4. 360 Tour of Woods Hole Research Center NASA ABoVE Sites on Winter Respiration


Student completion of field journal and participation in debriefing discussion are the primary forms of assessment.


Kim Young, 2018 PolarTREC Educator
Weston High School, Weston, MA
youngk [at]

Christina Minions
Woods Hole Research Center, Woods Hole, MA
cminions [at]

Standards Other

NGSS Standards

Earth and Human Activity

HS-ESS3-5. Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth's systems.

Earth's Systems

HS-ESS2-2. Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth's surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
HS-ESS2-6. Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.

Attachment Size
Full Lesson826.56 KB 826.56 KB
Lesson Materials240.48 KB 240.48 KB

This program is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed by this program are those of the PIs and coordinating team, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.