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 Environment” was 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 http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/
Pamela Gordon is a Senior Consultant for Antea® Group, and can be reached at PGordon@TechForecasters.com
Posted: Monday, March 27th, 2017
The California Science Teachers Association (CSTA) stands with our science and science education colleagues in endorsing the March For Science and its associated activities.
The decision by the CSTA Board of Directors to support the March for Science was based on the understanding that this is an opportunity to advocate for our mission of high quality science education for all and to advance the idea that science has application to everyday life, is a vehicle for lifelong learning, and the scientific enterprise expands our knowledge of the world around us. The principles and goals of the March for Science parallel those of CSTA to assume a leadership role in solidarity with our colleagues in science and science education and create an understanding of the value of science in the greater community. CSTA believes that the integrity of the nature of science and that the work of scientists and science educators should be valued and supported. We encourage your participation to stand with us.
There are over 30 satellite marches planned for the April 22, 2017 March for Science in California (to find a march near you, click on “marches” in the upper right of the main page, select “satellite marches” and use the search feature). We encourage members who participate in the March for Science to share their involvement and promotion of science and science education. Feel free to promote CSTA on your signs and banners. For those on social media, you may share your involvement via Twitter, @cascience and our Facebook groups.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…