The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge

What You Need


  • Classroom copies of The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen
  • Access to computers, including a projector
  • Glue sticks
  • Safety scissors
  • Paper
  • Old magazines
  • Colored pencils or markers
The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge


To 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.


This lesson makes use of a book called Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen. This book is one of the winners of the 2011 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. The class will read the book aloud together to gain a tremendous amount of scientific content on climate change in a concise and engaging manner. They will then devise their own creative, interactive response to the book's messages by assuming the role of one of the characters in the book, and creating a skit based on the chosen character acting out a message in the book, and what kids can do to meet the climate challenge. The main message to emphasize and desired outcome of the lesson is to communicate this fact: The biggest contribution kids can make is to understand the scientific basis of climate change, particularly the energy transformations outlined in the learning goals. This will prepare them to discuss the topic intelligently, and as they grow, to make informed decisions about their own energy use and the energy policy they as citizens help enact.

Research shows that even at upper middle school and above, students tend not to distinguish between heat and temperature. And while there is no literature about the heat-temperature misperception at younger levels, it is plausible to conclude that younger children do not make this distinction either—and therefore are primed to carry naive concepts into middle- and high-school physics courses. Be attentive to this point throughout the lesson.

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.1 Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.2 Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.6 Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.7 Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.9 Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Planning Ahead

You may enjoy listening to the AAAS Book Talk with the author and illustrator of The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen. In this Book Talk, they discuss what it's like writing and illustrating the book, how they work together (or not), and how they came to be a writer and illustrator. You can decide whether or not you would want to share this podcast with your students.


This lesson will likely unfold over three days of lesson periods revisiting the concepts in different ways. It can, of course, be collapsed into a single, day-long Meeting the Climate Change Challenge Day.

Day 1 Read Aloud.
As a class, read aloud together The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge. It is ideal if each child has a copy of the book, or can share two to a book. If this is not possible, use two copies of the book this way: You read the main text, from a copy, and the class has one copy and passes it child to child to take turns reading the "notebook" passage entries by the Frizz Kids in the book, which begin on page 8. These are facts written on the icon of notebook paper in the corners of each page. Students also can read the thought and speech balloons of the Frizz Kids. If a class copy of the book is not possible, photocopy pages 8-11 and hand them out to students/groups to do an abbreviated form of this teacher-student read-aloud exercise. If you have strong readers, photocopy more pages and read the entire book this way.

After completing the read aloud, discuss the “Big Ideas” and “Book Summary” on the Climate Change Challenge teacher sheet. Be sure to clearly restate them in the empowering context of, “Society can change, kids can help, and scientific knowledge can guide that change!” Take care not to frighten the students with a severe message that the world is ending catastrophically. Be hopeful: Using our scientific knowledge, there is time to act and slow the warming. Kids can definitely help and make a difference—perhaps even lead! Knowledge is power.

As the class discusses, prompt the kids to correct misconceptions about heat=temperature. To prepare them, emphasize these facts:

  1. Temperature is a number.
  2. This number measures the moving particles that make up heat.
  3. Heat is a process.
  4. This process is an energy transfer. It is an exchange between sources and sinks—energy origins and energy destinations. It involves an interaction of moving energy being transferred.

As Linn and Songer conclude in Chapter 15 of Benchmarks: "(Students') belief that temperature is the measure of heat is particularly resistant to change. Long-term teaching interventions are required for upper middle-school students to start differentiating between heat and temperature (Linn & Songer, 1991).” Also be alert for the related misconception that cold is a property (vs. absence of heat energy), or that cold can be transferred from a colder to a warmer object.


Day 2: Revisit the Big Ideas
Reinforce learning through a class interpretation exercise of the Climate Time Machine, produced by NASA’s Climate Kids. This time machine shows important climate-related changes that have occurred or might occur.

Using a projector and large screen (or a SmartBoard), display the Climate Time Machine site and select See Ice for the class to view. Guide and model for them how to extract information from the time machine so they can fill out the Sea Ice student sheet in class. To do this:

  1. Explain to students how this graphic works: The band of numbers is years running horizontally across the page and make up a time line. A time line marks changes from one date to the next, in this case, from 1979 to 2010. Move the slider to show interactivity of this time line. Ask them to call out when you move the slider to the year nearest their birth year. Explain that the item this time line is documenting for change is sea ice near the North Pole, which is among the coldest spots on earth. In this graphic, the sea ice is the white mass—or blob—that changes shape over the years. The red outline shows its biggest size, starting in 1979. The white blob edges meet the white outline. Teaching Point: This is a good place to emphasize the learning goals of heat transfer, with energy moving from warmer to cooler.
  2. Check for comprehension to see that they understand the three elements of this graph: The change over time, as seen in years; the change in the sea ice blob shape and size, drawn in white; the red outline that does not change, which records the 1979 amount of ice. By comparing the white blob to the red outline, the change in ice can be seen.
  3. Explore the graphic. Ask them to observe quietly for one minute as you move the slider from 1979 to present.
  4. Q & A. After one minute is up, ask for their observations—use the Sea Ice teacher sheet for additional insight into answers:
  5. Wrap up and Review: Revisit the information on ice melting in another visual way by projecting the U.S. EPA climate website called Melting Glaciers. Help the class understand the changes they see in the Muir glacier from 1941 to 2004. Explain that the 1941 black and white photo shows snow. Link the discussion to the learning goals in this lesson by asking them what the 2004 color photo shows. (Blue water) Why? What happened? (Heat energy was transferred from the warmer atmosphere to the colder ice, melting it to water.)

In independent or small-group work, at home or at school, students should use the North Pole student esheet to watch the video Why North Pole Web Cams? and use its information to answer questions on the North Pole student sheet, which calls for drawing a poster summarizing the video’s content. The goal is to deepen understanding of how scientific data are gathered in the Arctic to be the basis of our scientific understanding of climate change. You can see the answers to these questions on the North Pole teacher sheet.


Day 3: Frizz Kid Makeover Skit for “Helping Lolly Learn”
Each student gets to take on the role of a favorite character in Miss Frizzle’s class, or make up a new “transfer” student for the class. Or be him or herself and join the class during a skit created and performed by small groups. After all small groups have performed, the class is given 15 minutes to group-compose the “What Kids Can Do for Climate” chorus—to sing/rap out advice to their peers on how best to take care of earth, using a familiar tune they choose, or that you suggest.

Background: Pretend Liz, Ms. Frizzle's Jackson chameleon and teaching assistant, has a sister, Lolly. The problem is, unlike most Jackson chameleons, Lolly can't read. Liz wants the Frizz Kids to help her teach Lolly about climate change because Jackson chameleons are native to Madagascar, an island nation with both rain forests and mountain highlands that is very vulnerable to disruption from climate change in the form of tropical storms and sea water rising. From these effects, families could be disrupted and plants and animals suffer heat stress and habitat loss. One scientist in fact, predicts that between 2050 and 2100, at least three species of amphibians and reptiles found in Madagascar's mountainous north could go extinct due to loss of habitat from climate change. (“Climate Change Hastens Extinction in Madagascar’s Reptiles and Amphibians.” Science Daily. June 9, 2008.) 

Liz needs the kids' help. She has asked them to each make up a skit, a little play, to teach one or two ideas (see the list below) the book discusses. Liz plans to film the kids' skits and put them on the Internet for Lolly to watch. That way Lolly can help kids in the Madagascar school where she lives learn about how they can make a difference in global warming.

Directions: Divide the class into four small groups. Give them 30 minutes to one hour, depending on their ability to engage, to pick/create a character for each group member as a Frizz Kid. Then together, they prepare a 1-2 minute long “Helping Lolly Learn about Climate Change” skit with one idea about climate chnage that can help teach Liz's cousin, Lolly, about climate challenge.

The one requirement is that each child participates. Picking a character to be, or joining the class as their real self counts! Within the allotted 1-2 minutes, the group must somehow act out or define at least three of the words from this list written on the board/overhead. They are welcome to use all if they want!

Ice melting
Air warming
Air rising
1 degree
Dangerous loop (p. 11)….this could be a dance, or a gymnastic trick
Gas blanket=greenhouse gases
Animals displaced by heat
Sea water rising
Hefty Hippos
Alternative energy=windmill, solar power
Changes Kids Can Make=conserve by avoiding waste, recycle, walk, bike, carpool, turn off lights and computers when not in use, drink from refillable water bottles, teach their families!

After they have prepared the skit, each group performs the same day. At the end, after all groups have performed, you should lead a class discussion on the concepts performed. Using the word list on the board as a prompt, encourage audience members to define a concept they saw performed. Then ask the performers to explain the process they used to act it out. What were they trying to convey? Why?

Active Learning Review: To unite the whole class in an active review of concepts after the performance, give them 15 minutes to show what they know and learned from “Helping Lolly Learn” by group-composing the “What Kids Can Do for Climate” chorus. In it, they will sing/rap out advice to their peers on how best to take care of earth to meet the climate challenge, using a familiar tune they choose, or you suggest. They could perform for the class—or in the hall or auditorium for a special occasion for kindergartners, or at dismissal.


You can extend the ideas in this lesson by leading students through these Science NetLinks lessons:

One way to extend on the concepts in this lesson would be to have students create a Family Change calendar by montaging images of positive changes they want to help make in their family over the next week that can help slow climate change. 

To do this, they should:

  • Draw seven boxes, one for each day of the week
  • Label each day
  • Pick seven images, one for each day, on how to take action to slow climate change. These images could be pictures of animals they love and want to preserve, pop cans with an arrow drawn on them to indicate a recycling bin, sunshine, and the label “solar energy,” cool cars they like—filled with a drawn-in carpool of kids. All of these ideas work and duplicates are fine.

 For ideas on what kids can do, consult the Magic School Bus book; or these websites:

Funder Info
Science NetLinks is proud to have Subaru as a funder of this project.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards