I have had many mentors in my career as an educator, one of them being none other than David Sobel. Years ago, David wrote an enlightening article on ecophobia where he discussed, among other things, the importance for educators to be sensitive to the developmental needs of children when introducing scientific and environmental topics. Introduce a topic too soon, and you risk children becoming apathetic, overwhelmed, or defeated. Such is the case with climate change education.
To be clear: climate change is not an easy topic to teach in the first place, given the current political climate and misinformation that is communicated, often unknowingly, about what climate change really is. This is understandable. The issue is big, complex, and very hard to comprehend in terms of scale and impact. As an educator, it is critical to approach climate change from a non-partisan point of view and from a position that is not based in fear or hopelessness. So, where do you start?
As science educators, it is important that we first ground ourselves in place. The best entry point for teaching climate change education is cultivating a love of the natural world and an understanding of Earth systems science. No child is too young to learn about the joys and wonders of nature – if children do not see themselves as caretakers of the natural world, how can we expect them to care about sustaining it for generations to come? As students get older, it becomes easier to introduce data and modeling as ways to study patterns and changes, and how, when applied to climate change, these can impact our communities (e.g., changes in weather, plant and animal migration) and health.
This newsletter comes at an important time. Recently, science educators across the country were mailed a questionable text by the Heartland Institute, casting aside our deepening knowledge of the complexities of Earth systems science that has helped us to understand the impacts of climate change that our young people will experience in their lifetimes. Now, more than ever, it is important for us as educators to ground our work in hard science and evidence. In my lifetime, I have witnessed the loss of organisms and places that shaped who I am today. As responsible citizens, we must help our young people navigate this complex issue, using hard evidence to remove any questions that emerge from ideological perceptions and misinterpreted facts.
This issue of GreenNotes introduces you to some of the resources available to help you teach climate change education. You will learn about the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ new module on climate change and health, and curriculum and teacher learning resources recommended by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. You will also hear from some of the teachers and schools who are leading the way in the classroom, from a teacher using hydroponics to teach about climate change impacts to an EL Education school using climate change as a framework for one of its expeditions.
When you think about it, climate change education is really teaching how a changing environment impacts various systems and geographies of the world, important information for anyone to know in a constantly shifting society. Looking at it through this lens, it is truly a bi-partisan, human interest issue that has implications for human and non-human life, big and small. What it boils down to is this: when we care for the planet, we are caring for ourselves.
Happy Earth Day,