K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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  • Rising tides: Climate change and the sea: This lesson plan uses videos, NASA visualizations, and digital map projections to help students understand the connection between climate change and sea level rise. The lesson draws on the "Climate Refugees" story on the Powering a Nation website, and includes independent research and inquiry activities that allow students to explore sea level changes in North Carolina and around the world.
  • Pilot Mountain State Park: Pilot Mountain was dedicated as a National Natural Landmark in 1976 and is the centerpiece of Pilot Mountain State Park. Ranger lead programs which teach students about the geologic processes that created this quartzite monadnock.
  • Human responses to eroding shorelines: This lesson is part of chapter one of the unit "Coastal processes and conflicts: North Carolina's Outer Banks." Students look at efforts that are taken to prevent shoreline erosion. These include building hardened structures along shorelines. Students examine the effects these efforts have on barrier islands.

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The latter part of the school year is an ideal time for the facilitation of case studies that pertain to coastal issues and sea level rise due to climate change. These are complex topics, the understanding of which depends on accumulated knowledge about the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, exosphere and biosphere. The fourteen case studies presented here invite students to assimilate knowledge gained and propose solutions to existing coastal issues, with emphasis on the North Carolina coast. A number of case studies involve issues that show up in coastal locations throughout the world. Students are asked to incorporate at least one NASA Earth science resource (e.g. satellite image) into their presentation.

This set of case studies addresses leading questions facing coastal management along the Carolina coast which means the students in the class, when all is said and done, will be really up to date on issues of coastal management.

Orrin Pilkey, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Geology, Earth & Ocean Sciences, Duke University

Learning outcomes

The learner will:

  • apply previous scientific knowledge to identify solutions to real problems along the coast.
  • predict how sea level rise will impact places where problems already exist using a variety of online resources, including those available from NASA.
  • develop an understanding of sustainability and investigate sustainable ways to solve a coastal issue.
  • examine a coastal issue from multiple stakeholder perspectives.
  • examine the sometimes conflicting roles of science and politics in addressing a coastal issue.

Teacher planning

Time required

Depending on individual classroom situations and scheduling, the timeframe and sequence of this case study initiative can be modified. The research and development phase may require up to several weeks depending on how much classroom time is set aside as well as how the presentations will be coordinated. Allow 5–10 minutes for each presentation.

Materials need

  • Maps, diagrams and charts hung around the classroom for additional reference as well as piquing interest

Technology resources

  • Computers with Internet access and Google Earth installed (If Google Earth is not available, geology.com offers similar views of specified locations.)
  • LCD projector for Prezi or PowerPoint presentations

Student handouts

Student presentation guidelines and resource sheet
These instructions can be printed double-sided so each student receives one page.
Open as PDF (39 KB, 2 pages)
Case study instructions
Provide one case study per student in both electronic and hard copy format. Instructions for a student’s assigned case study should made available electronically, if possible, since relevant hyperlinks are included. Instructions include a short introduction to the case study topic, guiding research questions, and a few selected resources.
Open as PDF (66 KB, 14 pages)


  1. Briefly introduce each case study (1–2 minutes each) to the class in an effort to generate student interest for each case study topic. You may want to use Google Earth to introduce the location of and coastal issue associated with each case study. While most of the case studies pertain to a specific location, most involve issues that show up in coastal locations throughout the world. As you introduce each case study, connect the coastal issue being examined to content previously emphasized during class (e.g., sea level rise, population growth, coastal development, etc.).
  2. Invite students to work in pairs and assign them to one of fourteen case studies (provided). Either in class or as a homework assignment or some combination of the two, students will complete independent research to investigate the four open-ended guiding research questions presented on their instruction sheet and develop a 5–10 minute presentation to share with the class.
  3. Students should complete independent research, using the resources provided on their case study sheet as a starting point. Your school’s librarian could provide instruction to students on finding and evaluating resources.
  4. Students should identify relevant photographs, satellite images, videos and animations that can be used in their presentation to help answer the guiding research questions; at least one resource must be from NASA.
  5. Students should incorporate at least five vocabulary words that apply to their case study into their presentation.
  6. Students should cite their resources at the end of their presentation. This is an excellent opportunity for school librarian collaboration, especially if you have a particular citation format in mind.
  7. Arrange one or two class periods in which each student group will present their case study to the class either as a Prezi or PowerPoint presentation or using an alternative format such as a poster or model. Your school’s librarian may be able to provide instruction to students on how to use these or other presentation tools.
    • Students can set up a free Prezi account at http://prezi.com/ and go through the tutorial and view samples of completed Prezis learn how to use this presentation tool.
    • Students should refer to the grading rubric as they prepare their presentation.


  • Students prepare a 5–10 minute presentation for the class according to the grading rubric provided. Other presentation options include: debate, infomercial, public service announcement, rap or song, skit, comic strip, etc. When access to Prezi or PowerPoint is not available, “low tech” options for student presentations/assessment include:
    • Tri-fold display board
    • Building a model of the case study site
    • Political debate about the case study issue
    • Narrated radio story performed live
  • Ask students to prepare a written report to accompany their presentation.


  • Use visuals including animations when going over critical vocabulary.
  • Use of Google Earth to show location of case study is particularly helpful.
  • Give students additional time to conduct research and design and deliver their presentation.
  • The number of guiding questions can be reduced.
  • Students may be given the choice of presenting to entire class or to teacher.
  • Clarify guiding questions with simpler language as needed.
  • Consider an alternative assessment that aligns with the skills and strengths of the students.
  • Place students in mixed ability partners or small groups.


This lesson was reviewed by Orrin Pilkey, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Geology at Duke University and reviewed and edited by Dana Haine, MS, K-12 Science Education Manager for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Environment and Program Director for the NC Climate Fellows Program, a teacher professional development program made possible with support from NASA’s Innovations in Climate Education (NICE) project.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Earth and Environmental Science

        • EEn.2.1 Explain how processes and forces affect the lithosphere. EEn.2.1.1 Explain how the rock cycle, plate tectonics, volcanoes, and earthquakes impact the lithosphere. EEn.2.1.2 Predict the locations of volcanoes, earthquakes, and faults based on information...
        • EEn.2.2 Understand how human influences impact the lithosphere. EEn.2.2.1 Explain the consequences of human activities on the lithosphere (such as mining, deforestation, agriculture, overgrazing, urbanization, and land use) past and present. EEn.2.2.2 Compare...
        • EEn.2.7 Explain how the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere individually and collectively affect the biosphere. EEn.2.7.1 Explain how abiotic and biotic factors interact to create the various biomes in North Carolina. EEn.2.7.2 Explain why biodiversity...
        • EEn.2.8 Evaluate human behaviors in terms of how likely they are to ensure the ability to live sustainably on Earth. EEn.2.8.1 Evaluate alternative energy technologies for use in North Carolina. EEn.2.8.2 Critique conventional and sustainable agriculture and...