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Middle School    |    Daily Do

Why Are Wildfires in California Getting Bigger Over Time?

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Why Are Wildfires in California Getting Bigger Over Time?

Is Lesson Plan Middle School

Sensemaking Checklist

Welcome to NSTA's Daily Do

Teachers and families across the country are facing a new reality of providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning. The Daily Do is one of the ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families with this endeavor. Each weekday, NSTA will share a sensemaking task teachers and families can use to engage their students in authentic, relevant science learning. We encourage families to make time for family science learning (science is a social process!) and are dedicated to helping students and their families find balance between learning science and the day-to-day responsibilities they have to stay healthy and safe.

Interested in learning about other ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families? Visit the NSTA homepage.

What Is Sensemaking?

Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates that students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.

Lesson Snapshot

Middle school students, as scientists, analyze and interpret intentional burns, wildfires, and weather data to answer the following driving question: Why are wildfires in California getting bigger over time? Students are introduced to data that show that 14 of the 20 largest California wildfires since 1932 happened in the 2010s or 2020s. Students consider what they know about fires and watch a demonstration in which they identify that fires need a substance to burn. With this understanding in mind, students analyze and interpret data about California and Florida and watch the Our Beautiful Planet: Fire on the Mountain film to construct an explanation of why so many large wildfires in California occurred during the 2010s and 2020s.

Click the Download PDF button above for the complete Lesson Plan.


Student Materials

Per Student

Per Small Group (2 to 4 students)

  • Tablet or computer

Teacher Materials

Note: The link in Step 1 of the PDF is out of date. Use the link below instead. We have updated the link in the Student Reference Sheet. 

Top 20 Largest California Wildfires

Optional Teacher Resources

About the Our Beautiful Planet Film Series

This lesson is based on information provided in Our Beautiful Planet: Fire on the Mountain. Our Beautiful Planet is a fascinating new series highlighting the work that climate scientists around the country are doing to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. These dedicated scientists are seeking to better understand and plan for the realities of our changing climate. The scientists use cutting-edge technology and innovative problem solving, and their answers are sometimes found in rather surprising and unexpected places. This series transports the viewer to some of the most important field work being done today, taking the science out of the classroom and into the world. These compelling stories will not only teach viewers crucial scientific principles but will also inspire them to use science to examine the issues their own communities face in this changing world and climate. Through these films, the producers hope scientists and citizens alike can come together to safeguard our environment and to protect our beautiful planet. Productions by Kikim Media. Support provided by Kennebunkport Climate Initiative.

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