My NASA Data Using Precipitation and Vegetation to Study Climate Zones

Contributor: My NASA Data, NASA Langley Research Center

Type Category: Instructional Materials

Types: Activity

Note: This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.


In this My NASA Data Lesson, Using Precipitation and Vegetation to Study Climate Zones, students observe average values of global precipitation and vegetation over the course of one month using NASA visualizations created from satellite data. Students investigate possible relationships between the vegetation and precipitation in small groups, studying one continent and sharing their results with the class. Approximately one class period needed, 50-60 minutes.

Intended Audience
Educator and learner

Educational Level
Middle School
Grade 8
Grade 7
Grade 6


Access Restrictions
Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectation

MS-ESS2-6  Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.

Clarification Statement:

Emphasis is on how patterns vary by latitude, altitude, and geographic land distribution. Emphasis of atmospheric circulation is on the sunlight-driven latitudinal banding, the Coriolis effect, and resulting prevailing winds; emphasis of ocean circulation is on the transfer of heat by the global ocean convection cycle, which is constrained by the Coriolis effect and the outlines of continents. Examples of models can be diagrams, maps and globes, or digital representations

Assessment Boundary:

Assessment does not include the dynamics of the Coriolis effect.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation

Learners will use satellite data visualizations to determine the role of precipitation in the location of plants. Students would benefit from a discussion of how climate variations are related to latitude, prevailing winds, altitude, and nearness to large bodies of water.

Science and Engineering Practice

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice

Learners will use models generated with satellite data. The examples are provided with the lesson, but additional or more recent visualizations would be helpful, as found at The visualizations can be used to describe the phenomena of seasons, through a comparison and analysis of global data throughout the year. Learners are instructed on how to decipher the satellite images to determine the values that indicate plant population density and health based on absorption and reflection of visible and near-infrared light. Some instruction on the energy spectrum prior to this lesson would increase the relevancy of this activity to students prior knowledge.

Disciplinary Core Idea

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea

The effect of seasonal changes, or lack thereof, on plant densities, are based on latitude and geography in this lesson. Learners are asked to also look for additional evidence of plants stressed by a lack of precipitation. A discussion of variations in climate, such as droughts and floods, may help learners to understand the significance of such events and how evidence can be gathered from satellite data. This lesson would fit within a study of the factors and and evidence for climate and climate change.

Crosscutting Concept

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept

Models increase the opportunities for learners to understand and analyze the information provided by allowing students to make predictions based on cause and effect. In this lesson students predict vegetation levels based on the amount of rainfall. Learners may be reminded that not all models are the same, and in this case how data is used to generate a color-coded map of actual conditions at the time. From these models learners can determine the relationships between latitude, plant population density, and precipitation. Additional color-coded satellite images, such as those available from the searchable would be useful in deepening learner understanding of climate condition data and models.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: A. Learners are provided with an opportunity to use models created from NASA satellite data to develop a deeper understanding of climate variations and the effect on living organisms. The role of precipitation on plant density is connected back to latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns. Using models to explain the interactions between systems is done as learners make connections between climate and plant growth to determine cause and effect relationships. C. The disciplinary core idea of Weather and Climate is the focus of this lesson, and the authors also indicate the inclusion of the Roles of Water in Earth’s Surface Processes and Global Climate Change, however these are not the primary focus. The Science Practice of Analyzing and Interpreting Data is a key aspect of this lesson when students look for patterns in the satellite data, while using models and communication are also part of the lesson. The Cross-Cutting Concept of Cause and Effect is highlighted when students look for relationships between precipitation and plant density. Systems and System Models and Stability and Change are also incorporated. This lesson would be part of a unit or deeper study of climate. Additional experience with satellite models is recommended, such as temperature, sea level, or precipitation maps, searchable at A structured lesson can be found at Background in the energy spectrum would enhance the understanding of this lesson, such as
  • Instructional Supports: Students are engaged in a relevant phenomena that combines multiple practices as learner propose explanations for their observations. Students have several opportunities to express their observations and ideas in this lesson. First, through group review and discussion, then either individually or as a group for part 2, and finally in small groups for part 3. All results are recorded on a student answer form, which could be reviewed as the lesson progresses or after students have completed the written form. The student form provides a place to identify their evidence and to further explain their ideas and explanations about the relationship between plant density and precipitation in various locations. This lesson progresses from the pre-lesson review of weather and climate to the phenomena of precipitation and its potential impact on plant growth. This introduction is followed by steps leading students through a deeper analysis of the satellite data, ultimately creating a claim based on evidence supported by the data. Scientifically accurate and grade-level appropriate; potential misconceptions are addressed in the background information. This lesson does not provide connections, support, or extensions specifically designed for extension or differentiation. Individual educators are able to support students through instructional practices such as small groups or pairing of students. During the introduction of this lesson a discussion of local precipitation and pictorial examples of local vegetation would increase student engagement, especially if there are familiar, substantial changes in both within a limited distance. This lesson should be presented as part of a larger unit or study in order to more thoroughly develop the practices and understanding of climate effects.
  • Monitoring Student Progress: A student assessment form is included with suggested answers provided for most questions. The included student page moves through the lesson in steps. A variety of question and response formats are used. Educator will need to monitor responses. Some of the questions require greater comprehension skills and may require educator guidance throughout the lesson. This lesson uses a combination of independent student work and teacher-lead discussion. Since some of the language will be new to students this is preferable over using this as a completely independent task. The lesson is designed to facilitate class discussion, which may support the development of scientific argumentation skills when discussing the claim and evidence portion of the lesson.
  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: There is no interactivity.