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.
Posted: Monday, April 14th, 2014
The Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuIP) Rubric for Lessons & Units: Science was released April 11, 2014. The Rubric provides criteria by which to measure the alignment and overall quality of lessons and units with respect to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The purpose of the Rubric is to (1) provide constructive criterion-based feedback to developers; (2) review existing instructional materials to determine what revisions are needed; and (3) identify exemplars/models for teachers’ use within and across states.
This document was developed in response to the recognition among educators that while curriculum and instruction will need to shift with the adoption of the NGSS, there is currently a lack of high-quality, NGSS-aligned materials. The power of the rubric is in the feedback it provides curriculum developers and in the productive conversations educators can have while evaluating materials. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, April 14th, 2014
by Jessica Sawko
On Thursday, April 10, 2014 CDE Staff, friends, and colleagues of CSTA member Phil Lafontaine gathered to celebrate his incredible career as a science educator and state employee of the California Department of Education, and to wish him an enjoyable retirement. There were many CSTA members in attendance to celebrate Phil and his contributions to education, and science education in particular. Phil was presented with several retirement gifts, including a customized San Francisco Giants jersey, and a Senate Resolution honoring his career and service. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
Updated April 8, 2014
K-12 Alliance/WestEd, California Science Project, California Science Teachers Association, Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee, and the California Department of Education Presents: Next Generation Science Standards State Rollout Symposium #1.
Join science leaders at the first of a series of statewide professional learning symposia exploring the philosophy, design, and initial implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Learn More…
What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate: Evaluating Negotiation in an Elementary Science Classroom
Posted: Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
by Mason Kuhn
Engaging students in negotiation with their peers is considered a central motivation for recent national policy recommendations (National Research Council, 2011) and has been a focus of much scholarship in science education (e.g. Bergland and Reiser, 2009 & Hand, 2008). In the Next Generation Science Standards under the heading “Science and Engineering Practices,” the term “Engaging in Argument From Evidence” appears in almost every standard. However, most literature on negotiation focuses on theory, where little focuses on the topic of negotiation as related to science teaching and learning. Learn More…
Posted: Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014
by Laura Henriques
Updated April 8, 2014
This month’s issue of CCS focuses on biology and chemistry. Articles in this issue highlight some of the challenges around teaching these topics as we move towards Common Core and NGSS implementation. Jeanine Wulfenstein points out that the ideas are often abstract and difficult for students to grasp. These topics include a large number of vocabulary words that can get in the way of understanding, especially for English learners and students with special needs. Barbara Woods points out how discrepant events can be used to motivate and engage students by including the wow factor. Both articles provide us with teaching strategies that engage and support students while incorporating aspects of NGSS and Common Core.
I do not think any of us could teach chemistry (or other abstract topics) without using models (one of the NGSS science and engineering practices). A discrepant event or surprising moment causes us to ask questions (another of the science and engineering practices). These questions are followed by investigations, tentative explanations and more investigations as students and teachers try to make sense of natural phenomena (even more science and engineering practices!). This approach puts the student-developed models to the test. Adjustments need to be made and the model gets refined. As they explain relationships, cause and effect, and try to make sense of the science they are seeing, they are meeting Common Core standards and science standards. Learn More…