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New York DEP


6th, 7th, 8th


Science, Earth and Space Sciences

Resource Types

  • Lesson Plans
  • Experiments
  • Activity - Outdoors
  • Videos

Regional Focus

North America, United States, USA - Northeast, New York, New York City, Central & Western NY


PDF, YouTube Video

Modeling the Earth's Atmosphere

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  • In this lesson, students model the greenhouse effect through an experiment using shoeboxes covered with different materials.
  • Students collect temperature data, analyze their data, and apply what they've discovered to climate change.
  • Students will also have the option to explore why cities like NYC retain more heat than other areas, such as the Catskill and Delaware watersheds.
Teaching Tips


  • Students will love this hands-on experiment that they can do outside.
  • The lesson includes detailed discussion questions to help teachers guide the conversation about their results and how this experiment connects to climate change.

Additional Prerequisites

  • This experiment takes a week to complete, with students ideally collecting data twice daily. Students may need to use time outside of class to make their second temperature reading, such as during an advisory period, at lunch, or before or after school.
  • The boxes must be in direct sunlight outdoors or on a windowsill.
  • Each group of students will need a shoe box or other similarly sized cardboard box, soil, and a thermometer. Teachers can ask students to bring in these materials from home.
  • Teachers must provide various materials to cover the box, such as plastic wrap, tin foil, cardboard, wax paper, etc.
  • Teachers can also provide additional materials for the bottom of the box, like sand, asphalt, pebbles, grass, or plants as an extension option.


  • This introduction to the greenhouse effect is excellent for Earth science classes.
  • The lesson plan includes multiple options for further extension, including using different materials in the shoebox to collect additional data and graphing the data.
  • There are many links to additional resources that can help teachers further build the connection between the layers of the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect, and climate change.
  • To lessen the burden of materials, students can work in groups. Teachers can also have students share boxes across class periods to save space if using a windowsill or other limited areas of sunlight.
  • This lesson was created for New York students, but classrooms anywhere can easily use it.
Scientist Notes
This lesson will help students understand how the greenhouse effect changes our atmosphere. It is well-cited and recommended for teaching.

This resource addresses the listed standards. To fully meet standards, search for more related resources.

  • Mathematics
    • Statistics & Probability (6-8)
      • 6.SP.B.5 Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context.
  • Science
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • MS-ESS2-1. Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth’s materials and the flow of energy that drives this process.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.
    • PS3: Energy
      • MS-PS3-3. Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer.
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