Unit Design


Integrated Learning-A Professional Development Experience Exploring Climate Change Through Art (PowerPoint)

art-as-activism-climate-impacts-storyboard (word)     art-as-activism-climate-impacts-storyboard (pdf)

art-as-activism-climate-impacts-unit-plan (word)     art-as-activism-climate-impacts-unit-plan (pdf)

Description and Considerations:

Raising Awareness in a Changing World is a high school visual art and science investigation focusing on using art as a way to communicate about something students care about. It begins with student-centered learning about the science behind climate change and the effects felt both personally and globally. Students will consider what will be different 50 years from now if we stay on our current path and create a mixed-media artwork that will raise awareness about one impact of climate change.

During the third and fourth weeks of the exploration, students will examine how human activity has accelerated climate change and what changes we can expect to see in the next 50 – 100 years. Additionally, students will explore the use of art as activism – artwork that is grounded in the act of “doing” and addresses political or social issues. Students will look at the work of professional artists who use their work as a form of activism and discuss the role of this type of artwork in society today.

This unit will culminate with a final project in which students synthesize the information they have learned about climate change to create a mixed media “shrine” that focuses on one impact of climate change in order to commemorate or raise awareness about something that will be lost or drastically changed as a result of our changing atmosphere.

This unit would be best taught as a shared unit between a science and art class. Full attention should be given to content, skills, and techniques in both areas in order for students to achieve understanding.

Created by:

Kristin Olsson – Science Teacher, Rocky Mountain High School, Fort Collins, CO (kolsson@psdschools.org)

Laura Cronen – VIsual Arts Coordinator, Poudre School District, Fort Collins, CO (lcronen@psdschools.org)

Patrick Fahey – Art Education Coordinator, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO (patrick.fahey@colostate.edu)


Focusing Lens(es):

  • Integration
  • Activism


Essential Understandings and Guiding Questions:

  • Art challenges and can transform individual, societal, and cultural beliefs.
    • Why would an artist choose to challenge/alter beliefs through their work?
    • Why might an artist’s values or beliefs be different than that of the prevailing culture?
  • Artists change/transition/reform existing images, objects, and/or symbols to raise awareness about a relevant issue.
    • How is activist art perceived  in society?
    • Why would an artist choose to create work with the intention of changing the meaning of an image or symbol?
  • Artists use playful exploration and take risks to develop new artistic techniques and processes.
    • How could a perceived failure become a learning experience and potentially a success for an artist? For a scientist?
    • Why is risk-taking important in art? In other disciplines?
    • How do artists calculate risk?
    • How do scientists calculate risk?
  • Symbols exist throughout all content areas in the form of space/time/ energy.
    • Where do new symbols in art and/or science originate?
    • Who ascribes meaning to symbols in art and/or science?
    • What might be a tipping point that would cause a symbol to become viral?
    • How can art and/or science transform/transition or reform beliefs?


Academic Vocabulary: 

Play/exploration, change/transition/reform, transformation, juxtaposition, symbol, technique, reflect, creative process, beliefs and values,  technology, social and political commentary, justify, investigate, debate, analyze, document, research, interpret, context, influence, differentiate, compare and contrast, historical significance, articulate, discern, viral


Technical Vocabulary: 

Language of art, composition, technology, craftsmanship, technical ability, cliché, design, symbol, images, mixed-media, climate change, anthropogenic, greenhouse effect, greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2), atmosphere, climate, weather, fossil fuels, extinction global warming, solar radiation, ecosystem, habitat, precipitation, mitigate, renewable resource, drought, extreme weather event, carbon footprint



The students will produce the following:

  • Atmosphere flip book
  • Greenhouse Effect PHET
  • Single slide presentation
  • Sketches of their design
  • Mixed-media Shrine

The student will present:

  • Climate impacts research
  • Final product with artist statement


Learning Experiences: