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AIR & 

climate change

Activity 5 (Explore/Explain): Urban Heat Islands


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Activity Summary

In this activity, students perform a series of experiments that show how different surfaces affect how much heat is absorbed by the Earth, which contributes to the urban heat island effect. While the urban heat island effect does not directly contribute to climate change or sea level rise, temperatures in urban areas are affected by both urban heat islands and climate change, resulting in dangerously high temperatures. Consider adding this activity if your school is in an urban area or your students live in an urban environment.

Source: This activity is based on the activity “Greenhouse Effect) from the “Protect Your Climate” curriculum published by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 2 class periods (90-120 minutes)



  • Students will be able to explain the Urban Heat Island effect

  • Students will perform experiments to explain one cause of the urban heat island effect.


Materials (see activity for details on these materials)

  • Computer & projector

  • Thermometers

  • Black and white construction paper

  • Other “surface” materials: soil, grass, rocks, sticks, sand, roof shingle, water, etc.

  • Stopwatch (at least one)

  • Clipboards (optional, for recording data outside)

  • Graph paper (optional)


  • What is Causing the Ocean to Rise?

Standards Connection




1. Frame the Activity


2. The Urban Heat Island Effect

3. Introduce the Experiment


4. Writing Research Questions

5. Materials

6. Procedure

7. Variables and Controls

8. Write a Hypothesis

9. Build the Setups

10. Run the Experiment

11. Data Sharing

12. Data Analysis

13. Sensemaking Discussion

14. Return to Correlation & Causation

15. Conclusion (Formative Assessment)


For more information about On the Air 2020, contact:

Rebecca Davis, Education Manager

For more information about Clean Air Partners, check out our website at:

© 2020 by Clean Air Partners.