To explore how living things are affected by changes in the environment by studying the case of the snowshoe hare and how it’s impacted by climate change.
This lesson uses a book called Hopping Ahead of Climate Change, written by Sneed B. Collard III. The book is one of the finalists of the 2017 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. SB&F, Science Books & Films, is a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Students should read the book independently and learn about the impact of the change in climate on snowshoe hares as well as on the larger ecosystem. This book uses snowshoe hares as a microcosmic example of how the changes in climate, also known as global warming, can have a direct impact on a single species, and how this singular effect changes an ecosystem. It also sheds some light on the nature of ecological research and the scientific process by using photographs of the researchers and lab. By using a guided reading log to help them keep track of the content of the book, students can obtain a wealth of knowledge about complex scientific topics delivered in a way they can easily understand. They then discuss the impact of climate change as a class.
To assess students’ understanding of the content, they should investigate a molting animal of their choice and explore whether or not it has experienced similar threats as the snowshoe hares. They then should create a food web illustrating the animals that would be affected if their chosen creature were to go extinct. Students should present their food webs to their peers.
Students might not be familiar with climate change. You may need to start by explaining the difference between climate and weather, and how climate refers to longer-term trends and weather refers to what is occurring at a smaller given place during a short period of time. Then, explain how changes in climate can have an impact on every aspect of life on Earth by warming oceans, altering habitats, and creating conditions for extreme weather events.
You also could lead your students through our Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge lesson. This lesson should help students understand both the physical forces behind climate change and the social responses to it as a means to preserve the health of people, the state of cities, island nations, and organisms.
Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:
Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text.
Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.
Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text, identifying which reasons and evidence support which point(s).
If possible, have classroom copies of Hopping Ahead of Climate Change on hand. You should read the book ahead of time and note any areas where you would need some more background information. You can go to these sites to get more information about climate change, camouflage, mismatch, effects of climate change on animal survival, etc.:
- National Geographic: Can Snowshoe Hares Evolve to Cope with Climate Change?
- Science Magazine: Color-Changing Hare Can't Keep Up with Climate Change
- NASA: Global Climate Change
- Mother Jones: Snowshoe Hares Can't Keep Up With Climate Change
The structure of the book as a chapter-book with scientific content may be new to some readers. They may require additional help in understanding the content.
Some of the content of the book relates back to topics in global warming, weather, and evolution. You may want to connect this lesson with a lesson on one of those topics and be prepared to answer questions about these broader subjects.
Begin with a review or introduction of concepts that students will use in this lesson, such as climate change, evolution, and molting animals. Ask students to explain what is meant by each of these terms. If these terms are new to your students, you could write each word on the board and take time to define and explain each of them, with examples.
Here are some basic definitions for these terms:
- Climate change – a change in global or regional patterns in climate and weather due to human's long-term emissions of fossil fuels
- Evolution – the process by which species develop and diversify based on adaptations and natural selection of fit individuals
- Molting animals – animals that shed skin or fur based on the season
After you've gone over the terms, ask students to get into pairs and discuss their favorite animals. They should answer these questions about their favorite animal:
- What kind of environment does this animal live in?
- What kinds of adaptations make this animal better suited for its environment?
- What threats might the animal face if the environment were to change?
Answers to these questions may vary but encourage your students to explain their responses.
Resume as a class and have some of the students share their answers. Continue by introducing the book Hopping Ahead of Climate Change by Sneed B. Collard III. Show students the cover of the book and the Is Climate Change Harmful to Snowshoe Hares? video. Engage them in a discussion about what they think the book will be about based on the previous activity, the cover image, the title, and the video.
Distribute the book to students and provide them with the Hopping Ahead of Climate Change Reading Log. They should fill out the log as they read through the book. You could provide time in class for students to complete the reading or it could be done as homework. You should probably allow 2–3 days for students to complete the reading and fill out their reading logs.
After students have answered the questions, review them as a class using the Hopping Ahead of Climate Change teacher sheet.
Follow up their work on the student sheet by going over this set of questions as a class:
- How has climate change directly affected the snowshoe hare population?
- What do you think would happen to the ecosystem if the snowshoe hares became extinct?
- How can humans help reverse the damage caused by climate change?
- What adaptations might help snowshoe hares survive the changes in climate?
Now, the class should participate in a hands-on craft activity that will demonstrate the effects of climate change on snowshoe hares. Students should create three different environments on poster board or construction paper based on the seasons spring/summer, fall, and winter. Divide students into three groups and have them decorate each board based on the season. Ensure the poster boards reflect the colors of the seasons. Students can be creative and use construction paper to add trees, leaves, or flowers, or can draw with markers, crayons, and pencils.
Next, the students should individually make construction-paper snowshoe hares. Assign some of the class white hares, some of the class brown hares, some mostly-white hares, and some mostly-brown hares. Again, they should be creative with these designs.
Put the season posters on a wall, or lay them flat on the floor. Students should experiment with putting their hares in the different seasons. Ask these questions:
- During which season was your hare the most visible? During which season was your hare the least visible?
- In which season would your hare be the safest? Why?
- How does this activity relate to the book Hopping Ahead of Climate Change?
Conclude the lesson by having students select a different animal that molts its fur depending on the seasons, such as certain species of fox or caribou. They can go to Before and After: See Animals Change Their Coats for Winter for some ideas. Students should complete a poster about the animal. The poster should include this information about the animal they choose:
- Description of its coat in the winter and summer
- Food of choice
- Predators that might eat it
- Evidence that the animal might be affected by changes in the timing of winter or spring
They can use the Hopping Ahead of Climate Change Poster student sheet to help them research the animal and create the poster. Determine how much time students would need to do the research and make their posters and then give them a deadline for the project.
Students should be encouraged to use images and drawings to describe their animal. They should present their poster to the class. Students should explain how changes in climate might affect their animal.
You should develop a detailed rubric for assessment of the presentations and provide this rubric to students as they work on their presentations so they know what you are looking for in the presentaions.
There are several resources on the Internet that describe the use of rubrics in the K-12 classroom, a few of which are highlighted here.
To learn more about rubrics in general, see Make Room for Rubrics on the Scholastic site.
For specific examples of rubrics, more information, and links to other resources, check out these sites:
- Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything: Assessment and Rubrics
- Assessment: Creating Rubrics
- Rubrics for Web Lessons
Finally, you can go to Teacher Rubric Makers on the Teach-nology.com website to create your own rubrics. At this site you can fill out forms to create rubrics suitable for your particular students, and then print them instantly from your computer.
These Science NetLinks lessons could also be used as extensions to further explore the concepts in this lesson related to evolution and climate change.
As an extension to be completed as a class, you may want to engage your class in an activity on combatting climate change.
Students may want to send letters to senators and congresspeople emphasizing the need to take action on climate change. Addresses for representatives can be found at Find Your Representative.
Alternatively, as a class, you can arrange a local community cleanup, fundraising event, or trip meant to raise awareness about the effects of climate change and help support efforts to cease and reverse climate change.
As a class, you could explore the effects of climate change on a creature that is native to your city or town. Ask the class to think of a creature that is common where you live or that is only found where you live. This might be a squirrel, deer, or a type of bug. Explore with them why this animal or insect is important to the local ecosystem and culture. Then postulate as a class what kinds of effects climate change might have on this animal or insect, and how a decrease in its population would impact the local community. Students could use the internet for additional research.