Voices in Education

Bringing Global Climate Change into the Classroom

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As a high school Earth Science teacher in Monroe, NC, I believe there is no more pressing issue than global climate change. The changes in the environment that are occurring on a daily basis impact my students’ lives now and will continue to do so in their futures. My approach to speaking with the students about climate change is to talk about the changes around them from day one of class, until the very last day.  I begin every school year telling my students about the 3R's: relevance, relationships, and rigor. I tend to present the 3R’s at the beginning of the year to alert my students that these three components frame much of the learning that will take place throughout the year. This includes understanding the 3R’s in relationship to the environment and climate change.

Making Climate Change Relatable to Teens

The goal of my Earth and Environmental Science course is to provide students with the scientific principles, concepts, and methodologies required to understand the interrelationships of the natural world, to identify and analyze environmental problems both natural and human-made, to evaluate the relative risks associated with these problems, and to examine alternative solutions for resolving or preventing them. By framing my class and instruction around these major themes, I reframe the scope and practice of teaching Earth Science into a more relevant, personal, and connected way – an approach that relates directly to them.  

The Human Impact and ‘How we Screw Things Up’ 

Just recently, my students collaborated on a group project tasked with creating their own headers for climate issues. The final step asked the students to rank the environmental issues inside their headers. They were to choose between 3-7 headers and then rank environmental issues under these headers.  Every group was then to present their group posters to the rest of the class. As each group stood, the largest header was “human impact/how we screw things up,” with most problems ranked under that one header. During the group work portion of the project, almost all groups struggled to place anything in any header outside of their human header. 

I was amazed by my student’s implicit acknowledgment of the issue of climate change. Many students added their own commentary beyond the categories assigned. From the above picture, you can see, on the left, that my students wrote a brief paragraph that begins with I believe, I think, I feel.  The importance of students’ personal connection to their environment, and the realization that we as humans are responsible for climate change, cannot be overstated. It is these students who will bear the brunt of past generations’ ignorance towards sustainability and will become the people who will take ownership of the solutions to address global climate change. 

Hands-On Actionable Activities

Moving beyond a traditional science curriculum allows me, as an Earth Science teacher, to illuminate the historical, social, psychological, and economic reasons for global climate change. My students evaluate the disparity of wealth distribution in the U.S., critique the role of politics in climate change, and analyze alternative energy solutions. Students will soon be engaged in projects such as conducting interviews with local environmental policy makers, tracking global ocean temperatures, and participating in webinars devoted to climate change. In addition, my students practice writing skills, evaluate data, and converse with multiple stakeholders on the subject of climate change. 

Climate change is nothing new to science or education but has become an international discussion that filters into every aspect of our lives. The seriousness of climate change and the effects we see daily are a natural prompt for teachers cross-curricular to re-evaluate the teaching of climate change as a one-time lesson or limited to the science classroom. By challenging our students to take ownership, evaluate solutions, and make decisions towards sustainable practices, we as educators are promoting new ways of thinking and creating emotional connections to our very fragile home.

Sebastian Byers is a High School Earth Science teacher and the 2017 PBS Digital Innovator from North Carolina. Sebastian uses blended learning to keep his students engaged and creative all throughout the year. 

Sebastian Byers

Sebastian Byers Earth Science Teacher Twitter: scienceteachme

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