Climate Change in the Classrooms

On the other hand, a separate NPR poll discussed in the same article found, “Although most states have classroom standards that at least mention human-caused climate change, most teachers aren’t actually talking about climate change in their classrooms. And fewer than half of parents have discussed the issue with their children.”

I’m a social studies teacher, and the conventional wisdom is that teaching about the environment is primarily for science teachers.  I applied because I feel that both science and social studies disciplines are better – they make more sense, they’re more relevant to students – when the lines are blurred.  The two subjects are compliments, not as naturally siloed as a textbook with the title History or one with the title Science would have you believe.

The scientific method is at work in disciplines like history, anthropology, and economics, for one.  We should be asking questions with a scientific mindset – testing and looking critically at the evidence – in all sorts of disciplines.

Policymakers and our citizenry need to be scientifically literate. Science should inform our civic life – it should help us make more sustainable choices about how we allocate resources for the future. 

One question that often gets lost in science classes is, “So what?”  To the average student, the average non-scientist, science can seem like a collection of trivia, odd facts.  The answer to the “So what?” question is often where we make the leap into social studies – and where too many science classes stop.  The most relevant example of this that I can think of is climate change.

Our species is at a crossroads. There is a moral imperative to take action on climate change – to do it on a large scale and pretty rapidly.  And it is only going to be policies informed by science that get us there.  Why aren’t we doing more to teach young people to look at the world not with one lens or the other, but with both?  To see the continuity and overlap between disciplines – that is where real creative thinking transpires.

Check out these brand new resources to help you bring this important environmentally-conscious conversation into your classroom, whether it’s labelled science or social studies:

  • Californios Verdes and Your Public Purpose Project: Can young people change the world, or are they stuck with the messy one that adults are planning to hand to them? Learn about the Californios Verdes, a group of young people inspired to take action on behalf of the environment in their hometown of La Paz, Mexico. Based on this model, students will devise their own public purpose project – a year-long project devised and carried out by students to improve quality of life, raise environmental awareness, or in some other way positively impact their community.
  • Where do you fit into Earth’s Ecosystems? (Even the Ones You’ve Never Seen with Your Own Two Eyes): Read about John Steinbeck, the American author who took part in a voyage to collect scientific samples of species in the Sea of Cortez.  His vivid writing is an entry point for students into a discussion of ecosystems, ecosystem goods and services, and human impacts on ecosystems.  Afterwards, students will apply these concepts to surveying, quantifying, and mapping their own ecological footprint.
  • Unrecognized Potential: Terra Preta, Ancient Orchards, and Life in the Amazon: Until relatively recently, it was widely believed that the Amazon Rainforest was incapable of sustaining large scale human development.  New findings have challenged this view, and evidence of ancient agriculture suggests that humans once developed this fragile region in ways so subtle that – in the form of carefully managed soils and prehistoric orchards – they have been hiding in plain sight all this time, challenging the basic tenants of “agriculture” as western eyes tend to recognize it.