Getting the Science Right: Teaching Climate Change in the Classroom
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.
by Jessica Sawko
2014 will be a very busy year for the Next Generation Science Standards in California. On November 6, 2013, the State Board of Education took action on the issue of the middle school learning progression that they had left undecided at their September 2013 meeting. Their decision was to accept the revised recommendation that California adopt the integrated model as developed by the Science Expert Panel (SEP) as the preferred model for California middle grades science instruction, and to reconvene the SEP to develop a discipline specific model based on the domain specific model in Appendix K. The SEP is meeting on December 4 and 5 to begin this task. Once the SEP completes their work (estimated March 2014) school districts will be able to evaluate both – and choose between the integrated and discipline-specific models based on which they think will best serve their students. No further State Board action will be required to adopt the alternative discipline-specific arrangement. I encourage you to read NGSS for Middle Grades: Tips for Implementation – Step 1, Don’t Rush for tips and information.
2014 will bring a number of opportunities for science teachers to become involved in the NGSS implementation process: Learn More…
by Jill Grace and Marian Murphy-Shaw
Since April 2013 when the national version of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) went public, California has been working at a steady pace to move from lead contributing state to active implementation. CSTA members and other readers of California Classroom Science may be the best informed educators in the state on NGSS at this time. This article is intended to aid middle grade teachers in communicating up-to-date information to your colleagues in science education and the educational leaders you work with.
The number one point which science education leaders, the California Department of Education (CDE), professional learning providers, and the NGSS Achieve group are all making is not to rush, there is no hurry, that 2016-17 is the probable target for full implementation. As with Common Core implementation, a sequence of events, resource preparation, policies, and teacher awareness and transition support will all occur over the next few years. Now that you can breathe again, here is a rundown of common questions and next steps to consider as you start the work towards toward NGSS implementation. Learn More…
by Susan Gomez Zwiep and Jody Sherriff
Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are integral to the development of new knowledge in science both by students in the classroom and by scientists in the field. The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for ELA provide a new opportunity for science teachers to integrate ELA into science instruction in ways that mirror and support scientific thinking.
Consider this scenario: when you start a new unit about density and buoyancy think about what activity or series of observations might engage your students’ curiosity. As you introduce the unit, the goal is not to “teach” but rather, to get students talking so you can assess their prior knowledge. If you are someone who typically begins by reading part of the textbook or reviewing important vocabulary, resist these urges for now and instead start immediately with a hands-on activity. Learn More…
My First Science Conference…How Did I End Up Here? Reflections of a Non-Science Person Teaching Elementary Science
by Cheryl Romig
OK, so here’s my dirty laundry. I actually chose my major in college based on the number of science classes I would have to take. I can vividly remember lying on the dorm floor, college course catalog spread out in front of my freshman year, counting science classes and crossing off potential majors if I had to take more than two. That was my limit… two classes in four years would surely send me over the edge. Learn More…
In this past month the newspapers, magazines and television shows have been commemorating the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Kennedy inspired a generation to volunteer, to do for others and to give back to their nation. He asked Americans to step-up and to do more. As we remember and celebrate that spirit of serving, I ask you to consider what you can do for science education.
Over the past couple of months CSTA has been promoting opportunities for you to become more engaged in California science education. I have talked to people who have applied to serve on the California Department of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission and the Framework Focus Groups. Lots of you have thought about the workshop proposals you will submit for the 2014 NSTA Long Beach Area Conference – in Collaboration with CSTA! (Remember that the deadline for submission is January 15, 2014.) Learn More…