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Climate Change and Migration

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Earth and Space Sciences +3 Age Levels Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old)

What will the future reveal about our choices and attitudes toward the natural world? This collection uses the painting 'Mamakadendagwad' by Tom Uttech and two Project Zero routines, ‘Ten Times Two’ and ‘Unveiling Stories,’ to start or continue a dialogue about the impact of humans on the environment. 

“Tom Uttech's visionary paintings emerge from a deep sense of communion with nature. As an accomplished birdwatcher, conservationist, wildlife photographer, and hiker, Uttech (born 1942) has spent his life engaging with the unspoiled wilderness of his native Wisconsin and the neighboring woodlands of northern Minnesota and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Yet while Uttech's experience of the landscape is grounded in firsthand knowledge and close observation, his paintings do not represent specific scenes. Instead, he uses his understanding of the ecosystem's animals, plant life, light, and atmospheres to conjure fantastic reconstructions of the natural world.”. (

Climate change is expected to cause larger migrations both within and across borders - displacing individuals from their homes. This movement is the result of many complex factors such as: sea level rise, desertification, extreme weather events, etc. While humans are certainly impacted by climate change, so are other living organisms.  

This collection can be used in several classroom settings: Biology (ecology unit or any units that address human impact on the environment or relationships between living organisms), IBDP Environmental Systems and Societies (many connections with content throughout the course), AP Environmental Science (many connections with content throughout the course), Theory of Knowledge (when exploring the Natural Sciences Area of Knowledge or exploring knowledge claims about evidence), or Geography. 

This collection could be used at the start, middle or end of a unit as there are valuable connections possible at any point; however, I think this would be a fantastic starting image for a unit. In the absence of any context of what is being learned in class, students may come up with a larger variety of observations and perhaps a more emotional connection with the painting.

Annotations attached to the painting provide information on how to guide student exploration with each of the thinking routines. 

Extension: The first additional resource is a map showing the average direction mammals, birds, and amphibians need to move to track hospitable climates as they shift across the landscape. The following three articles are related to the moving map and should be used along with the map. Teachers could start with this moving map before showing the painting depending on their students’ level of interest and knowledge. Another extension could be analyzing data to draw conclusions about how migration changes biodiversity in various ecosystems. The last article from National Geographic explains that “…as the planet warms, species are shifting where, when, and how they thrive. They are moving up slopes and toward the poles. That is already altering what people can eat; sparking new disease risks; upending key industries; and changing how entire cultures use the land and sea”. ( Each of these articles highlight an aspect of the complexity of climate change and its impacts on the environment.