Adventures in Climate Science!

“I’m often asked whether I believe in global warming. I now just reply to the question, do you believe in gravity?”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

While playing a game of “Who can teach climate science better?” Kim won and I lost. It wasn’t a game we were playing for fun, or even knew we were playing at all. As you’ll find by the end of this Adventure, Kim and our friendship is centered around a sense of what’s right, good, and works. Oh, and she has to the best at wins just about any game she plays. Her loyalty to helping students and teachers is an inspiration and included as the free download. In return, please take our resources and teach climate science. Win, lose, or draw.

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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I can’t speak for Kim, but I’m going to save the world by bringing students to STEM so they choose STEM careers and save us from ourselves. At the very least, I intend on cultivating millions of scientifically-literate citizens. As an 8th grade science teacher for an impacted middle school in the DC area, I try to do this by building student-centered opportunities, yet sometimes I wonder who is teaching who. We’ll get to issues around student engagement and restorative justice later. Right now, and I mean right now, we must talk about and teach climate change in the context of dynamic interactions of the atmosphere and biosphere. Global warming might be depressing, yet it’s the most valuable lesson I’ve taught this year (and I lost!). Sure, it may be challenging with student resistance, information overload, or in my case, data interpretation issues, but it was also the most rewarding process in spite of this. So… I won?

The metrics of success around teaching climate change are tricky. Progress means different things to different people. Is progress really measured by the amount of buildings we build or, ideally, forests we save? What about student progress while teaching climate change? It’s a depressing yet oddly rewarding process. Yet, what EXACTLY equals success when teaching climate science? This year, it’s the fact that we actually taught it at all, using graphs and charts. I thought, as a colleague recently counseled me,”done is enough.” Until I saw what Kim developed for her lesson.

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Who is Kim, anyway? Good question. She just came out of nowhere one day early in my work at Space Center Houston ten years ago. If you’re lucky enough to know someone like Kim, you understand how loyalty and honesty, let alone sheer strength, can and will transform your life forever.

Her loyalty to me came before our friendship. One day she just introduced herself to me, in between space classes for NASA’s many visiting groups, and that was it. Our work soon moved to Rice University’s aggressive curriculum building projects, and now finally to the classroom- hers in MA, mine in MD.

To say we have similar interests is redundant at best. While I was teaching international space school, she was running space day camps. While I was writing Biology curriculum, she was running its teacher feedback programs. While I was reading David Quammen’s Song of the Dodo, Kim was reading The Sixth Extinction. She’s the first person I called, yelling from a literal mountaintop, when I successfully defended my thesis in interactive reading passage development. We are the virtual Cagney and Lacey of curriculum development, the Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy of science education, the Grace and Frankie of STEM.

You’re almost caught up. There’s one last thing you need to know about Kim and I. We may be friendly, but we are fierce competitors. Well, she’s more competitive than I, so she wins this one, too. She may empower you more than any other human (because apparently she’s also the best at this), except she will also win any game placed in front of her, including out-teaching you. This year, it was 7th grade science using IQWST for her, and 8th grade science using a homespun curriculum for me (we had to skip climate change last year, so the playing field is level). Both in early NGSS-adoption states, we didn’t need to worry about whether we could teach climate change, just when and how we would teach it. Without planning it, our schedules synched up for the Weather and Climate units. Let the games begin.

Since my school had to abandon the climate change lesson last year during an already train wreck unit on Weather and Climate, I thought just teaching it at all was a win. Over the summer, we committed to not repeating this mistake and overhauled major portions of our calendar to allow for the lesson this year. Every curriculum improvement – from streamlining paper-usage and differentiating with scaffolds, enhancing language with less complexity and more relevance, and increasing culturally-proficiency and real-world scenarios with multimedia and literacy – was an effort to assure four valuable days of climate science. Our storyline reflected the conceptual flow of a scientist launching a rocket to explore not only our solar system, and also using extensive satellite imagery to inspect our own planet. I even made a word wall! Aren’t these strides in getting the Weather and Climate unit JUST TO par enough? Nope.

Improving the behind-the-scenes stuff is great, except to effectively teach climate change, you’re going to need much more than a more organized curriculum. The data, graphs, or even aiching stories of losses in biodiversity help instruction, but you’re going to need even more than that. You’re going to need literacy strategies, cooperative learning opportunities like PBL and ways for students to feel connected to the world around them.

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This is a commercial break for an upcoming Adventure to “Invent the Future.” I’m fortunate enough to run our school’s first-time involvementwith Kid Museum and the Montgomery County Public Schools. Together with 30 students from under-represented populations in STEM, we are bringing our inventions to “protect life on Earth” and showcase prototypes, journals, andamazing “Orange Team” collaborative spirit with all 40 middle schools in a Challenge Summit soon. Stay tuned!

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMIn a classroom intended to focus on graph interpretation during the most challenging time of year for 8th graders, I was instead immersed in an education for teaching and learning equity. Some schools are transforming to a restorative justice school, growth pains and all. Restorative Justice helps give all people a voice without holding anyone accountable. In my experience, it’s helped in some areas yet leads to unintended consequences in others, particularly in perceptions of race and equitable teaching practices. Here I was, just trying to teach the graphs for climate change, when I discovered how inaccessible the lesson was for all learners and how planning for both academics and behavioral progress is nearly equal this time of year. Here are the important lessons I’ve learned in this critical journey of teaching equitably:

  • The intent of action can make an unintended impact with individuals of any gender, race, or ethnicity. What seem like a small drop in a pond to one may seem like a tsunami for another (regardless of age).
  • The process of achieving equity needs to be transparent and issues need to be resolved quickly through early-intervention, but may not be. That said, sometimes things have a way of working themselves out over time.
  • We can’t confuse apathy for science with caring for learning in the class. Kids are constantly learning what’s in the room, regardless if they getting the science content.
  • Kids can’t learn science, let alone how to interpret a real-world graph on climate change, if they aren’t available to learn at all.

The wellness of students and educators – from cultural proficiency to trauma or character-building, is essential to learning. This humbling lesson has forced me to take a BIG step back and look at the landscape before me. I now see the journey I am beginning to empower empathy – for others and our environment – in all learners.

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Next stumbling block of my career – graphing instruction. I thought my passion on the topic would be enough for effective instruction. It wasn’t (Kim, meanwhile, has weekly graphing activators using a variety of data sets). If you made a Venn diagram for my passion and my competency of teaching graphing interpretation last month, you’d have two circles with no overlap, and it made me very sad.

We need more graphing instruction professional development for science teachers. Our PLC unpacked the NGSS standards for students identifying and describing evidence of changes in climate AND comparing the many figures provided by Climate Central from the curriculum. As we did, it became apparent students are being asked to appreciate the width of data available, not each topic at expert level. This is good, because our PLC had GREAT difficulty teaching even the SPECIFICS from graphs like the following. Wanna try?

I think the basic gist is clear from the graphs… yet in 8th grade concrete terms, it’s unclear how to explain them or get students to explain them, even with prompts and discussion. As a temporary solution, they listed figure names with summaries and ask questions.

This is a fine solution for now, but MUCH room for improvement in the future. Maybe that’s why I was so happy with Kim’s solution, the obvious winner today, and have included it below as the free download.

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Margaret Mead

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This is not completely climate science-related, I’m throwing in a celebration for awareness and our environment! While serving on our campus’s School Energy and Recycling Team (SERT) Committee, I had a win by initiating the “Skip a Straw, Save a Turtle” coloring contest for all three grades. It was quick to build, easy to implement, and made the intended impact, plus some.

Here’s the 6th grade winner, pictured behind me:

 

Weeks after the contest was over, I walked into an art class where a 7th grade student shared with me her latest creation. It was her own watercolor rendition of a turtle in its ocean, soon-to-be uncluttered from straws.

This is progress measured one more aware student – and one less plastic straw – at a time. Also, what a great way to bring the art in STEM – full STEAM ahead!

 

 

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If you’re not careful (and you don’t have a Kim), it can be easy to fall into traps of doubt or regret. There will always be a parent, student, admin, family member, friend or peer who steps on your mojo, even inadvertently. I’ve learned there will be times where we feel well-supported or under-supported, betrayed even. The world’s getting smaller, we have less space to navigate on our own, so it’s all about how we treat ourselves and others when, not if, unfavorable things happen to us. Sometimes it will feels like adults and students give us a hard time, but they are just having a hard time. Big difference.

It might not always be easy to meet people where they are, but we’ll get there eventually, we just gotta try. If people take things away from you, take the lesson and run with it. It’s impossible to hold on to a loss anyway. So, if you eff up your first time teaching climate science, do it better next time. And if you really do fail at something, then be the best at it and make that shit a success.

This Undo is dedicated to the lesson of not only meeting kids where they are, but going to get them where they are. If they are all falling down at different points on the trail, I cannot wait patiently until they all arrive. I need to go pick up each and every one of them and teach each one separately while they get caught up on the trail. Every reading, video, and especially graph. Otherwise, they aren’t available to learn, no matter how patiently we wait. It’s a tooooouugh lesson to learn and stinks when you fail teaching it the first time, and it’s a very ‘sophomore slump’ type of lesson. Except it’s a valuable one to own and move on. Actually, not move on, per say, move forward.

“We have a single mission: To protect and hand on the planet to the next generation.”

Francois Hollande
President of France

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There’s a special section below for the many resources available to teach climate science, beyond the GLOBE, Bill Nye, National Geographic, and interactives available. If not enough resources are provided, please comment and we’ll post more. Climate science is a great way to hook everyone, and as you’ll see in Kim’s lesson, everyone can relate to it. It hits all modalities. Kim won, and now you can, too.

Download & Thanks

Get full student engagement with STEMJourneys.org Climate Science From All Angles Lesson 2019, now available as a free download for us all.Many thanks and safe travels!

Special Segment: More Resources

NASA For Educators: Global Climate Change
Climate Resources for Educators

Alliance for Climate Education has a multimedia resource called Our Climate Our Future, plus more resources for educators and several action programs for youth.

The American Association of Geographers has free online professional development resources for teachers.

American Reading Co. sells an English Language Arts curriculum called ARCCore that includes climate change themes.

Biointeractive, created by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has hundreds of free online education resources, including many on education and the environment, and it offers professional development for teachers.

Climate Generation offers professional development for educators nationwide and a youth network in Minnesota.

CLEAN (Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network) has a collection of resources organized in part by the Next Generation Science Standard it is aligned with.

Global Oneness Project offers lesson plans which come with films and videos of climate impacts around the world.

Google offers free online environmental sustainability lesson plans for grades 5-8.

The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility has a group of 19 lessons for K-12.

“We believe that the social and emotional skills we help strengthen in young people and adults are sorely needed to combat the fear and avoidance we and students experience around climate change,” spokesperson Laura McClure told NPR.

The National Center for Science Education has free climate change lessons which focus on combating misinformation. They also have a “scientist in the classroom”program.

The National Science Teachers Association has a comprehensive curriculum.

The Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, N.Y., has a book called the Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change.

Ripple Effect “creates STEM curriculum” for K-6 “about real people and places impacted by climate change,” starting with New Orleans.

Ten Strands offers professional learning to educators in California in partnership with the state’s recycling authority and an outdoor-education program, among others.

Think Earth offers 9 environmental education units from preschool through middle school.

The Zinn Education Project (based on the work of Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History Of The United States) has launched a group of 18 lessons aimed specifically at climate justice. Some are drawn from this book: A People’s Curriculum For The Earth: Teaching Climate Change And The Environmental Crisis.

This Adventure is dedicated to my long-time colleague and daily inspiration, Kim C. Without her, I would not be able to navigate the world and its break-neck pace, let alone teach. Without planning it, we both put our money where our mouth is by returning to the classroom with over 25 years combined experience. I’ll speak for both of us; when it comes to teaching climate science, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. It only matters that you play the game at all.

The mission of spectrumclassrooms.com is to build and share opportunities for teachers which share journeys in cultivating STEM classrooms, one Adventure at a time. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright 2019 STEMJourneys.org. All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

Follow our adventures with #thisiswhatstemlookslike

Do what’s right, good, and what works.

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