January 2016 – Vol. 28 No. 5

Getting the Science Right: Teaching Climate Change in the Classroom

Posted: Monday, December 3rd, 2012

by Minda Berbeco

As the newest Programs and Policy Director here at the National Center for Science Education, I am constantly asked where educators can find good lesson plans and classroom activities to teach about climate change.

  • Is there something for 2nd graders?
  • Can it involve water resources?
  • How about a chemistry focus?
  • Will it fit into already established statewide science standards?
  • Can it involve students in the search for practical solutions?

These questions are especially pressing because even though climate change can fit well into almost any science course, whether biology, chemistry, or earth sciences, textbooks often skip over the topic, concerned that it is “controversial” or assuming that it will be covered elsewhere. I can’t answer all such questions here, but there are three sources of lesson plans and classroom activities on climate change that I recommend—not only because they’re useful but also because of the way in which they model good scientific and pedagogical practice.

Bringing climate change education into the classroom

An Internet search for climate change lesson plans comes up with over 2 million results. For a teacher, the options are mind-boggling. How could you even find the time to go through all of those resources? How do you know whether they are based in sound science?

The Climate Literacy & Energy Awareness Network is an ideal place for teachers to start when looking for lesson plans that will fit science standards. CLEAN is an online repository for lesson plans and other educational materials on climate and energy topics. All of the materials go through a multi-step scientific review from researchers with topic-specific expertise, as well as a teacher review to ensure good pedagogical practices. The searchable database allows educators to filter the material by age group, literacy principles, topics and more. It is a great resource for those looking for simple lesson plans to implement in an already full classroom.

Bring students together to create change

Teachers don’t have to become instant experts on climate change to engage students in the science. Many have started bringing in outside organizations to engage students in climate and energy literacy.

One such program is provided by the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), which works nationally to educate high school students on climate change in a positive and solution-focused manner. ACE starts engaging students though a school-wide assembly, and then builds an action-focused community of students. In the past, students have focused on decreasing their energy usage, saving schools money and reducing their carbon footprint substantially. This year, students are attempting to reduce the amount of waste being generated by the school. Engaging students in action plans, while educating them about the science and consequences of climate change, ensures that students do not become disillusioned when learning about this topic. Solutions are the focus, and this gets students engaged.

Students as agents of community change

The consequences of climate change can seem dire to students, resulting in disillusionment and disregard for the science. Somehow, it can be easier to ignore or dispute the science if students find the implications disturbing.

One way to address this challenge is to empower students to engage in solutions outside of school. The ECO2School in Sonoma County has started working with local schools to empower students to change their carbon footprints. Students develop their own science-based solutions to address climate change in their community, while being trained in organizing and leadership skills. Groups form a team with a math and science teacher as facilitators to encourage a strong basis in the STEM fields. Through encouraging biking, carpooling, and even walking, they generate their own school-wide initiative to evaluate and then reduce the carbon footprint of their community’s commute.

Students will need to have a good understanding of the science of climate change in order to make educated and thoughtful policy decisions about the consequences of climate change in the future. Unfortunately, many teachers avoid the subject, because they feel poorly prepared to address the many questions that can arise or are concerned about bringing controversy into their classroom. In addition, the resources are not yet in place at the state level to encourage them to present the science accurately and effectively. With lessons and programs such as the ones described here, though, it is becoming easier for teachers to integrate climate change into their science teaching.

Please note CSTA’s disclaimer regarding links to outside source: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Written by Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco

Minda Berbeco is the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education and is CSTA’s Region 2 Director.

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Do We Really Need a Third Dimension?

Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Peter A’Hearn

The NGSS has defined science learning as three-dimensional. There are Core Ideas and Science and Engineering Practices, which seem similar to content from the old standards. Then there’s this new thing- the Crosscutting Concepts.

So… do we really need the crosscutting concepts? How important are they to science? Consider a few examples from the history of science:

Galileo used a new tool, the telescope, which let him observe the universe at a different SCALE. He observed PATTERNS which he tried to establish CAUSE AND EFFECT relationships to explain. He ended up supporting a new SYSTEMS MODEL of the solar system.

Darwin observed PATTERNS in the distribution of living things. His reading of geology led him to understand the vast SCALE of time for change to occur. He connected a series of CAUSE AND EFFECT relationships that both explained STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION in living things and STABILITY AND CHANGE of species over time.

Understanding global climate change required the observation of PATTERNS of climate over long and short time SCALES and identifying a CAUSE AND EFFECT relationship that could account for those patterns. To truly understand STABILITY AND CHANGE in Earth’s climate, complex SYSTEMS MODELS had be developed to account for the many ways that ENERGY AND MATTER flow and cycle through Earth’s SYSTEM.

I have found that the Crosscutting Concepts can be challenging to explain to classroom teachers, but are always easy to explain to working scientists and engineers. Dr. Dave Polcyn, on first seeing a presentation on the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts, said, “This describes how we [scientists] think, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it just listed this way!” I have had similar reactions from wildlife biologists, physicists, and engineers, who regard the crosscutting concepts as obvious, if usually unstated.

These encounters have led me to an easy shorthand for the three dimensions of NGSS:

The Disciplinary Core Ideas are what scientists and engineers KNOW

The Science and Engineering Practices are what scientists and engineers DO

The Crosscutting Concepts are how scientists and engineers THINK

To help keep your students and yourself thinking about the crosscutting concepts and how to apply them, I developed a series of classroom symbols that can be found at http://crosscutsymbols.weebly.com/ . There are free PDFs of small and large classroom posters and lists of questions that can be used to focus student’s thinking. I hope you enjoy thinking like a scientist!

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.

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Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

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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.

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Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

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In the past, she recounted, she would take teachings from a book like “Good to Great” or “The Speed of Trust”, etc. and focus her efforts for a year on one of the themes for self improvement. This year she decided to focus on NGSS! Her resolution is to look for and make use of Crosscutting Concepts. 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.

Teaching Physics Through the Crosscutting Concepts

Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Joseph Calmer

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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.

Considerations for Equitable NGSS High School Curriculum Implementation

Posted: Saturday, February 6th, 2016

by Jenna Porter & Rich Hedman

Over the next few years, school districts throughout California will need to decide which curriculum course model to adopt for high school science.  Unlike middle school, for which there are two relatively straightforward course models (preferred integrated and alternative discipline specific), high schools will have more than 4 distinct course model options (see Table 1).  Which model would be best for high schools in your district?  To assist you in answering that question, we offer some resources and points to consider, and make a recommendation for providing equitable opportunities for all students to access the new science curriculum. 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.