Science and ELA lesson for students grades 5-12

Who is animator Miwa Matreyek?

Silhouette of a woman holding a tiny person in her hand against a backdrop of animated ocean with fish and a large full moonMiwa Matreyek is an animator, director, designer, and performer based in Los Angeles. Coming from a background in animation by way of collage, Miwa creates live, staged performances where she interacts with her animations as a shadow silhouette, at the cross-section of cinema and theatrical, fantastical and tangible, illusionistic and physical. Her work exists in a dreamlike visual space that makes invisible worlds visible, often weaving surreal and poetic narratives of conflict between man and nature. Her work exists both at the realm of the hand-made and tech. She performs her interdisciplinary shadow performances all around the world, including animation/film festivals, theater/performance festivals, art museums, science museums, and tech conferences. A few past presenters include TED, MOMA, Lincoln Center, Sundance New Frontier, Future of Storytelling conference, Exploratorium, Adler Planetarium, ISEA conference, Meta.Morph (Norway), Anima Mundi (Brazil), Houston Cinematic Arts Festival, Carnegie Museum of Natural History and many more.

Touching upon her most recent work, “Infinitely Yours,” Miwa visualizes scientific ideas collected from scientists, scholars, the media, and her own life experiences. She walks us through her process of creating these powerful visual statements.

Watch Artist Talk and Performance Highlights

Miwa has a long relationship with FirstWorks. She is one of the artists engaged for the FirstWorks Earth First initiative – to communicate compelling ideas of environmental stewardship through world-class arts. Due to COVID-19, her March 2020 residency was postponed to the 2020-21 FirstWorks season. Details will be forthcoming.

LESSON – Sea Level Rise – Climate Change & Coral Activities, Grades 5–12

Grade Level: Grade 5 – 12; Natural Science, Environmental Science, English Language Arts (ELA), Geopolitics, Film Studies, Visual Arts


5-PS1-4 Conduct an investigation to determine whether the mixing of two or more substances results in new substances.

5-PS1-2 Measure and graph quantities to provide evidence that regardless of the type of change that occurs when heating, cooling, or mixing substances, the total weight of matter is conserved.

5-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.

MS-ESS2-4 Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.

MS-PS1-4 Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed.

MS-ESS3-4 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.

MS-ESS3-3 Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

MS-PS3-4 Plan an investigation to determine the relationships among the energy transferred, the type of matter, the mass, and the change in the average kinetic energy of the particles as measured by the temperature of the sample.

MS-ETS1.3 Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.

HS-ESS3-1 ESS3.A ESS3.B Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

HS-ESS3-4 ESS3.C ETS1.B Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.

HS-ETS1-3 ETS1.B Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

HS-LS2-7 LS2.C LS4.D ETS1.B Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.

HS-ETS1-1 ETS1.A Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.

HS-ETS1-3 ETS1.B Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

HS-ESS2-7 ESS2.D ESS2.E Construct an argument based on evidence about the simultaneous coevolution of Earth’s systems and life on Earth.


English Language Arts (ELA):

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.7 Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.8 Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; summarize or paraphrase information in notes and finished work, and provide a list of sources.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.


• Understand Climate Change and its impacts on the world’s oceans

• Realize that fossil fuel emissions are responsible for this warming trend

• Become familiar with alternative forms of energy, specifically renewable energy

• Take the challenge to reduce your energy consumption and encourage others to do the same

Introduction: Incoming energy from the sun is absorbed by the Earth and then redistributed by atmospheric and oceanic circulation before being radiated back to space. Naturally occurring ‘greenhouse gases’ in the Earth’s atmosphere—water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), ozone (O3), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O)— absorb some of this outgoing thermal radiation, which is ultimately reflected back to warm the Earth’s surface.

This phenomenon is typically known as the ‘greenhouse effect’. An enhanced greenhouse effect is now considered to be occurring, due to substantially higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is causing global warming and climate change.

The oceans are not exempt. Sea level is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, species are changing habitats and migrating, corals are bleaching, and storms are becoming stronger and more frequent.

The current increase in global temperature of 0.7°C since pre-industrial times is already disrupting life in the oceans, from the tropics to the poles. The species affected include everything from plankton to corals, fish, polar bears, seals, penguins, and seabirds. Nearly half the CO2 produced by human activities in the last 200 years has been absorbed by the ocean. The ocean is now becoming more acidic as a result. When CO2 dissolves into water, it forms carbonic acid. As pH decreases (becomes more acidic), it decreases the ability of shellfish to make their shells and corals to build their skeletons.

For a short video of showing past and predicted temperature changes from 1870 to 2100:

We possess all of the knowledge and technology needed to reduce our emissions. Some governments have begun to do their part and as a result, their economies have actually grown. There are lots of things you can do as an individual to reduce your own daily emissions and save money in the process.

Curriculum Connections:

Through simple experiments, students discover the effects of climate change on the ocean and discuss their impacts on marine life and people.

Did You Know?

  1. The ten hottest years on record have occurred in the last two decades.
  2. Current atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are higher than they’ve been in the past 420,000 years and likely, for the past 20 million years.
  3. The primary human-related causes of CO2 release are fossil fuel combustion (mainly oil, coal and gas) and deforestation.
  4. Sea level is projected to rise another meter or more by the end of this century.
  5. When water temperatures get too high, corals expel the symbiotic algae that give coral their food and color, causing them to “bleach” and die.
  6. Recent years have seen widespread and severe coral bleaching episodes around the world.
  7. As the oceans warm, the location of the ideal water temperature may shift for many species and some have already begun migrating.
  8. Species will face extinction if they are not able to move due to natural or manmade barriers.
  9. Two (uninhabited) islands have already been submerged and a number of island nations exist at only a few meters above sea level.

Lesson: Ocean Effects

Supplies / Materials:

• 4 clear containers

• Bowl

• Water

• Salt

• Natural pH indicator (acid/base indicator)***See attachment for at home options

• Antacid tablet

• Drinking straw

• Ice

• Stove/Microwave (use with parent/guardian approval and/or help)

• Internet

Experiment 1: Increasing the Acidity of the Ocean

What happens to the pH of the ocean when you add carbon dioxide (CO2)?


  1. Make an “ocean” by filling a clear container with water and adding a pinch of salt.
  1. Add your choice of pH indicator, the color will change if the “ocean” is acidic, the original color will remain if it is not.
  1. Use a straw to blow CO2 into the water. You should see the color change.
  1. Explain that as CO2 bubbles enter the ocean, it makes it more acidic. The ocean can hold a great deal of CO2, but today the levels are starting to change the chemistry of the ocean. The oceans are becoming more acidic.
  1. Experiment with three more at home pH indicators. Chart the changes in color for each. Do they all register with the same degree of change? A more drastic change indicates a highly acidic environment.

How does this chemical change affect marine life?

  1. Explain that the marine life that are most vulnerable to an acidic ocean are those that use calcium carbonate (CaCo3), things like mollusks who have shells and coral which use calcium carbonate to make reefs.
  2. Place an antacid tablet into the acidic “ocean.” What happens to the tablet? (It should dissolve)
  3. Discuss the implications of an acidic ocean on marine life that depends on calcium carbonate.

EXTENSION: The ocean helps to stabilize the world climates. Changes to major ocean currents like the Thermohaline Conveyor Belt, or the North Atlantic current, would cause significant climate changes in places like Eastern North America and Western Europe.

Have students view the following short video from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,) Motion in the Ocean:

Have students research the causes and effects of disrupting these currents.

Experiment 2: Melting Glaciers and Polar Icecaps

Why will global warming increase sea level?


  1. Make an “ocean” by filling a clear container with water and adding a pinch of salt.
  2. Place a few ice cubes (“icebergs/polar ice cap”) in the clear container and take note of the water level (use tape or a marker if it is not a measured container.) This watermark will be your “sea level.”
  1. Ask students if they think that the water level (sea level) will change when the ice melts. (Will sea level rise when the polar ice cap melts?)
  2. Set “ocean” with ice aside, (you can place it under a heat lamp “sun” to increase the rate of melting.)
  1. Take another clear container and place the same amount of water and salt into this container so that the “sea level” is the same.
  1. Place a few of ice cubes in a bowl and explain to the students that the bowl represents Greenland (ice/ glaciers that are not floating in the ocean.)
  2. What will happen to the “sea level” when the ice in the bowl (Greenland) melts and runs into the “ocean”?
  3. Either wait for the ice to melt in the bowl, or simply add the ice and note the “sea level.”
  1. Discuss the difference between the impacts of the polar icecaps melting versus the glaciers on Greenland. Which will cause sea level to rise more? (Greenland) Why doesn’t the melting of icebergs/icecap change the sea level? (Ice in water is already displacing that amount of water.)

Experiment 3: Thermal Expansion

What is thermal expansion and how why does it lead to sea-level rise?


  1. Make an “ocean” by filling a clear container with water and adding a pinch of salt.
  2. Take note of the water level (“sea level.”)
  1. Ask students if they think that the “sea level” will decrease or increase when it is heated? Explain how climate change is increasing the temperature of the ocean, what will happen to the ocean as sea level changes?
  2. Heat the water and take another measurement. Has the sea level risen?

Note: As water is heated, it will create steam which leads to the reduction of water level. Avoid heating water to boiling point. 

  1. How will sea level rise affect people living on the coasts? What kinds of threats do people face because of increasing sea level?
  2. Warmer oceans lead to stronger and more frequent storms. What can we do to protect our coasts and ourselves?

EXTENSION: Have students watch the following video from Sky News (running time 12:49):

  1. Discuss the video afterwards. How did they feel after seeing the effects of melting ice on the environment?
  2. Can they think of ways in their own home/community that they can help decrease the effects of global warming?
  3. What are some short term goals to help?
  4. What are some long term goals?
  5. You might consider revisiting this discussion periodically to see what progress students make and/or what deeper impressions they have after absorbing the information over time.

Adapted from lessons created by NOAA.

Bonus Activity
Using a clear, flat surface at home, like a large table or the floor, ask students to lay out the plastic waste from their recycle bin. Take a photo and list the types of items on display.
Ask students the following questions:
Can students think of ways to replace some of the plastics with environmentally friendly containers or materials?
• Can they design and/or create reusable, recyclable containers?
• What are the important qualities that these containers need? Why?
List examples of what might be switched out.
Have students keep a photo or video journal for one month, listing their plastic waste.
• Can they see any changes in the amount of their waste?
• Was there a reduction?
• If so, what changes did they make for that to happen?
• If not, what changes will they make?