Global Climate Change

This morning I got an email from NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) about how science teachers perceive and teach climate change.  They linked to a worthwhile article in Science that reports on how American teachers are addressing this topic.

The short version is that science teachers are mostly pretty well informed about climate change and are addressing it in their classrooms, but as a group, we aren’t spending much time on the topic – maybe only an hour or two in a year.  Furthermore, a substantial portion of teachers are not communicating to students that climate change is mostly caused by human activity.

So how well am I addressing climate change in my classes?  And what should I do to improve the instruction that I deliver?

First the positives –

I can pat myself on the back for addressing climate change in my regents earth science classes.  Better yet, I’m glad that I have been featuring two of the three specific earth science topics recommended by the authors of the article in Science for years (i.e., the carbon dioxide measurements on Mauna Loa and climate data from ice cores).  I mention the third topic (climate modeling) but have not delved deeply into this.  The authors make a good point about the importance of understanding climate modeling.  I am going to put some thought into how best to address this idea.

climate change photo
Here is part of one climate change experiment one of my earth science classes did – one bottle had an atmosphere enriched with carbon dioxide while the other had normal “room” air.  Both were exposed to strong incandescent light and then the temperature change was compared.

I recently discovered a resource for teaching climate change that I like a lot.  It’s a British Geography textbook and it has a very thorough, evidenced-based treatment of climate change from both a scientific and a social perspective.  I haven’t seen anything even remotely like this in an American textbook.  Thus far, I’ve only used this book with one student, but I’d like to start incorporating some excerpts from this text into the assignments I give other students.


geography text
I’m not a geography teacher by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m currently acting as an “expert co-learner” with a homeschooler who is studying geography.  We’re reading this book together.  We also read Guns, Germs, and Steel and we’re currently working on The Island at the Center of the World.

Now for the negatives –

I don’t spend much time in regents earth science talking about climate change.  Most classes only get about two or three hours on this topic.  Considering how important climate change will be in my student’s lives, this doesn’t make sense.  I will have to think about how I can work more information about climate into our lessons while still covering all of the material the students need for the regents exam.  This will be tough.  As a homeschool instructor, I inevitably get fewer contact hours than most teachers.  On the other hand, it’s a topic well worth making the effort to address and it is multi-faceted enough so that I may be able to incorporate discussion of climate change into other topics the regents covers.

More importantly, there are other classes where I should be discussing climate change, but have not done so in the past.  Most glaring is high school biology.  In past years, it honestly hadn’t occurred to me to teach climate change in biology, but of course, climate has tremendous implications for the biological world.  Fortunately, this will be fairly easy to remedy.  In fact, both of my current high school biology classes will be having a unit on ecology this spring.  Between now and then, I’ll put some thought into developing appropriate lessons.



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