top of page
industry pixabay -1752876_640.png

AIR & 

climate change

Activity 1 (Engage): Under Water

Expand All

Collapse All

Switch to Dark Mode

Activity Overview

Activity Summary

In this introductory activity, students look at pictures or watch a video of “sunny day flooding” which occurs due to high tides and rising sea level as opposed to rainfall. From these images, they generate and organize questions for their new investigation, and brainstorm ways that they can answer those questions.

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 45 minutes


  • Students will make observations and ask questions to better understand the phenomenon of “sunny day flooding”

  • Students will generate ideas for how to answer their questions about the phenomenon



  • Sticky notes (enough for all students to have a few)

  • Plain paper (optional)



  • Phenomenon I See I Wonder

  • Air Quality Champion interview (optional) – see end of module

Standards Connection

DCI: ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

SEP: Asking Questions and Defining Problems

CCC: Cause & Effect



Have you ever had a flood in your neighborhood or home? What was the weather like before and during the flood?

  • The purpose of this warmup is for students to make a connection with flooding, and to setup a contrast between flooding they are likely used to (during/after a storm) and flooding due to sea-level rise.


1. Frame the Activity

Tell students that today they are starting a new investigation. For this investigation they are going to be looking at a major global phenomenon from the perspectives of many different people: including scientists, business owners, and themselves.

Step 1

2. Introduce The Phenomenon

Pass out the Phenomenon I See I Wonder handout to students. Then show them pictures of sunny-day flooding (flooding that occurs without a storm), or put up pictures and have them do a gallery walk. Have students write down what they see and what they wonder about the pictures. Sample pictures:

Nuisance flood Annapolis.jpg
Nuisance flood truck.jpg
Annapolis flooding.jpg

Alternative Media: Instead of showing students the pictures above, you can show them this video without sound from 0:32 to 1:20: Leaving the sound off will prevent “giving away” the explanation

Once students have had a chance to look at all the pictures, have them share what they notice. Possible answers:

  • It’s not raining in any of these pictures

  • The sky is blue in some of the pictures

  • The water level is high


Tell students that this type of flood has a special name called, a “sunny day flood.” Ask students why they think it’s called a sunny day flood (because the flood happens when there’s no rain).

3. Generating Questions

Make sure students have written down some wonderings (ex. where is this? or what happened before the flood?) If they haven’t, give them a moment to write down any wonderings that they have. Tell students that they are now going to generate some questions from their wonderings to use during their investigation. Pass out a few sticky notes to each student, and tell them to write one question that they have per sticky note. The questions should be things they want to know about what they see in the pictures. They can come directly from their wonderings or they can be totally different questions. For example: Where did the water come from? Did the water stay like that or did it go back down? What time of year did the flooding happen? Was it raining a lot before the flooding happened? How often does this flooding happen? What caused this flood?


If students struggle to come up with questions, have them think about what they see to help them make up questions.

Modification: If students have a lot of questions, consider having them choose the top 3 questions from their group to share out loud, and put the rest up on the board at the end.

Step 4

4. Organizing Questions

Have students start by sharing their questions with one another in a small group. If two people have the same (or very similar) questions, they should put the sticky notes together. Next, have each group share one of their questions with the whole group, and put that question up on the wall or a piece of chart paper. Rotate from group to group, sharing questions. If one group has a similar question, put the sticky notes together. Once all the questions are up, have students organize the questions around particular topics. For example: questions that have to do with weather (did it rain before the picture?), location (where are these pictures from?), time (what time of year was this?).

Modification: To help organizing the questions, you may want to write them in large print on pieces of paper so students can see more easily.

5. Create Big Guiding Questions

Using the groups of questions, see if students can come up with one question that summarizes all of the questions in the group. Ex: Does this kind of flooding happen in particular places? or What is the weather like when this flooding happens? Do this together as a whole group to support students in generating good questions.

6. How to Investigate?

Ask students how scientists answer questions. Write their responses on the board: ex. they ask other scientists, they look things up, they conduct experiments.

Next, ask students how they can investigate their own questions. Can they look up the answers? Do they need to perform an experiment?


Assign one big guiding question to each group of students and have them create a list of ways they could find out the answers to their big question. Make sure they are specific (ex: “Look up places that have sunny day flooding” vs. “look it up”) If they get stuck, have them use the little questions to help them figure out how they might answer the big question.

Once groups are finished, have each group share out their suggestions for how to investigate the answers to their questions. Record these on chart paper to put up with the questions. When each group is done sharing, allow other students to ask them questions, or add additional ideas.

7. Next Steps

Tell students that they have made a great start in figuring out this strange phenomenon of the sunny day flood. During the course of the investigation, they’ll do some of the suggested investigations in order to answer their questions, and maybe even figure out some ways to address it. Put the questions and the suggested investigations up on the wall for future reference.

Teacher Tip: Some of the questions that students come up with will be ones that you will answer during the module, and others will go beyond what you have planned. The same is true of their ideas for investigation. Consider ways you can either modify upcoming activities to address their questions, or ways that you can incorporate some of their ideas for investigation into your plan. Ultimately, you will not be able to answer all students’ questions through the module activities, or follow all of their suggestions. Think about other ways to make sure students recognize their ideas are valid: ex. a suggested experiment might be good for science fair or an extra credit project. Unanswered questions may be divided up and answered as a homework assignment.

8. Formative Assessment

Have students answer the prompt: What question is the most interesting one that you want to answer? Why?

Reading: Dr. Vernon Morris - Air Quality Champion

Recommended homework or in-class reading: At some point during the module, have students read the interview with this module’s Air Quality Champion to get them into the frame of mind of the kind of work they’ll be doing during this investigation.

Name: Dr. Vernon Morris


Titles: Director of the Cooperative Science Center in Atmospheric Science & Meteorology (NOAA); Emeritus Professor of Chemistry & Atmospheric Sciences (Howard University)

Organizations: NOAA Cooperative Science Center for Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology (NCAS-M), Howard University

How does your work relate to air quality?

At N-CASM, I lead teams of scientists, university students, and professors to work on problems of air chemistry, weather, and climate. We work on projects to improve predictions about air pollution, develop new ways to measure chemicals in the environment, and study how climate change and air quality affect each other. As a professor, I teach, develop new courses, and support education and career opportunities in environmental science, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Vernon Morris headshot.jpg

What motivates you to come to work every day?

  • Curiosity.  I love learning and finding out how and why things in nature work the way they do.  My job allows me to uncover the mysteries of the Earth’s environment.


  • The possibility of making a difference. Whether I’m providing educational tools and programs or conducting research that will lead to a better quality of life for people all over the world, I feel like the work that I do makes a difference.  Sometimes, I even get to see the fruits of my labor when a student becomes a successful professional or my research leads to policy or process changes in an organization or society.


  • Engagement with students.  I absolutely love to be around people who want to learn new things. I am fortunate to have a job that continually seeks and shares knowledge. Being around people who love learning is energizing.


What education and career path did you pursue to have the position that you have today?

Growing up, I thought that I would enter the military and travel the world.  In high school, I envisioned myself becoming a professional fighter. A dramatic event changed my mind and I literally stumbled into my current career. Shortly after entering Morehouse College, I found myself unable to pay some of my tuition. I was dashing through the chemistry building on my way to find a job and ran smack into a chemistry professor. This professor not only paid my tuition, he found me a part-time campus job and convinced me to major in Chemistry and Mathematics.  I went on to become the first African American to earn a PhD in Geophysical Sciences (now Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) at Georgia Tech. After that, I began my research in a mountain monastery in Sicily and have now conducted research on five of the seven continents, three of the five major Oceans, and visited over 30 countries.

What is your workspace like?

On a typical day, I may be in a meeting room in the morning, a classroom in the afternoon, and a rooftop lab after that. My favorite workspace is aboard research ships that sail out into the remote oceans to conduct experiments. On the ships, I launch balloons that carry delicate instruments up in the atmosphere to measure the properties of the air. I also monitor air chemistry on deck, and even send devices into the sea to measure gases.


What accomplishment are you most proud of? 

My proudest accomplishment has been my children. I have three intelligent and beautiful daughters and a son on the way. A close second is enabling the success of the 150 students whom I have mentored over the years. Many of these students have gone on to become successful doctors, scientists, engineers, and business owners.  I take a lot of pride in opening doors and enabling people to achieve their dreams.


Is there something important that you want to share that we haven’t asked?

A little advice: believing in yourself is important but not enough. Hard work is essential but not enough. Combining these two elements and building meaningful professional relationships will take you a long, long way towards achieving your dreams. You have to find people who will fight for you and help open doors for you. You have to be prepared to do your job well when the door is opened. And once you get through the door, make sure that you reach back and help someone else.

Page buttons
bottom of page