September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Climate Change and the Classroom (with a focus on High School)

Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Pamela J. Gordon

More than any other class I took at Lynbrook High School (1973-77, in San Jose), the class on environmental conservation most informed my career as an environmental consultant and Climate Reality Leader.

So strong was our teacher Hal Skillman’s commitment to his students’ efficacy in protecting the environment, that half-way into his semester-long class, he suddenly announced to his idealistic students, “Tomorrow we’ll start a unit on economics.” “Economics?” my classmates and I wondered. “What does economics have to do with protecting the planet?” Without squelching my passion for protecting and improving the natural environment, Mr. Skillman demonstrated that making substantive and lasting environmental improvements necessitated the bridging of science and Capitalism.

Gratefully, for the past several decades I’ve coached Technology Industry executives in reducing the environmental damage of products and processes, and instead increasing their companies’ profitability through eco-designed products and resource-efficient supply chains and operations. My book “Lean and Green: Profit for Your Workplace and the Environmentwas published in 2001 (by Oakland-based Berrett-Koehler Publishers) and today I am a certified Leader in the Climate Reality Project (chaired by Former VP Al Gore) speaking to primarily corporate audiences.

Climate Science Needed Now More than Ever

Given that 14 of the 15 warmest-temperature years on record have been in the 21st Century, and that in each time zone around the planet rising seas and extreme weather has been documented (source: Climate Reality Project), preparing students to be part of the solution is more important than ever.



Teaching how our planet is changing and ways to mitigate harm to people, economies, and nature (through affordable wind and solar energy, the Circular Economy, and more) is imperative at elementary, middle school, and high school levels. But what are students prepared to learn at each level, and how?

My son’s Oakland elementary school curriculum (2009-14) helped students make connections between societal changes and environmental impacts. He and his classmates tended on-campus organic gardens while learning the benefits of growing food without pesticides or herbicides, weeded invasive plant species in a neighborhood forest to illustrate the advantages of indigenous plants, and studied flora and fauna in nearby mountain and city lakes as they learned about keeping pollutants from soil and waterways. Science classes combined with these out-of-the-classroom experiences help to shape young students’ environmental awareness and values.

When my husband Joseph Solove teaches science at Oakland middle schools, his students make connections between the use of fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect leading to global warming and climate change. Notwithstanding the wide range of student maturity in middle school, still the students understand that climate change affects their families’ lives.

“Teaching about climate change is even more critical in high school,” says Solove, “when students can choose fields of study, select college majors, and prepare for careers.”

Suggestions for Preparing High School Students for Careers in Climate Health

From Larry Friedrich’s first experience in high school science, then as a CalTech student, Intel chemical engineer, and finally high school science teacher and tutor, Larry Friedrich (Mountain View) has found that those students who pursue careers in science, engineering, and medicine are inspired by high school teachers who make learning experiential and who hold students responsible for their own learning. “Present the big picture,” Friedrich recommends, “and link it with other things students have learned. Excite the students by making science sensible and come alive; science isn’t magic when you understand it.”

Guest lectures by physicists, biologists, and climatologists can spark students’ enthusiasm about working in environmental fields. Seana K. Walsh, Conservation Biologist at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, recommends that teachers make science relevant to students’ lives now and in the foreseeable future. “Hands-on stuff is key of course; it’s exciting and fascinating for students to see what they normally cannot see, such as by extracting DNA and using a compound microscope to look at cells with all the structures therein.”

Walsh continues, “I think students also need to get outside more, into the forest and into the water, to learn first hand from experts, who can answer most, if not all the questions they might have. Teachers and guest lecturers can exude their passion for their specialties. It’s also great to get high school students out to work with [conservation, restoration, and animal-recovery] organizations and projects.”

I’ll add that when high-school teachers place climate change science in the context of economics and government policy, students can imagine how their choices in their work-lives and civic involvement can either exacerbate or mitigate climate change. Plus, high school students can engage their parents and grandparents in discussions about what they’re learning about climate change, encouraging the adults in their lives to proactively make climate-health decisions in their workplaces.

Keeping Climate-Change Science…Science

Friedrich reports hearing that some science teachers get pushback from students whose parents point to scientists who dispute climate change.* “Not 100% of scientists get behind String Theory either” says Friedrich, “but this new physics-based subject is still taught. It’s important that students learn about climate change — what we know about it and what we can do to mitigate it. And it’s critically important in high school.”


Sadly, as my environmental-conservation teacher drove home to Santa Cruz from our high school graduation, he died in a traffic accident. I hope to do tribute to Mr. Skillman through my influence on product designers and corporate executives to reduce climate change and other environmental degradation in ways that make good economic sense.

May each teacher reading this article and his/her students make substantive and urgent strides to reducing climate change.

*“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” –NASA website

Pamela Gordon is a Senior Consultant for Antea® Group, and can be reached at

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From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

One Response

  1. On the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladamir Lenin, (April, 1970,) we were informed that it was the consensus of the scientists worldwide , that we needed to immediately halt the use of ALL internal combustion engines. Not stopping their use in the early 1970 would cause a second Ice Age by the year 2000. They also discussed the need to spread coal dust across Greenland, Alaska, as well as Antartica, in order to keep the Sun’s heat from escaping the atmosphere. This predicted New Uce Age would put all of North America under a sheet of ice twenty feet, (or more,) thick across the entire North American continent. Since there was NO NEW ICE AGE in 2000, what happened? Why are the failed predictions important to teach? Al Gore’s POINT IF NO RETURN date has come and gone. That was the date that he gave that if his AGW predictions and warnings were not followed, that IT WOULD NOT MATTER WHAT WAS DONE AFTER THST, it would be a done deal! Well, last month, we passed that date, so there is no use in trying to stop Anthropogenic Global Warming, since nothing can stop it now! For 19 years or more, I’ve heard warnings that the earth is getting warmer. Yet, the Earth has not followed the Global Warming computer Models! Nor has the Earth followed the Climate Change Models, either.

    Why is it that the failures of the computer model predictions, indicate an error in the models ignored by those pushing the idea? Why are the facts that indicate no evidence of AGW IGNORED, discounted and forgotten? Isn’t is about time to be more like Galileo than by those who demanded that had held to this naive notion that all of Solar system circled the Earth?

    Science is not determined by consensus, but by facts. Political Correctness has no use in the arena of true science

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.