Bringing climate change into my high school classroom

ghawarHow will this cat be affected by climate change? Probably not much. She lives in a middle-class household, in one of the richest countries in the world. By grace of geography she will probably never have to deal with evacuation or privation brought about by flood, drought, wildfire, or severe storms. She is more secure than most of the people on this planet.

So how do you get a group of teenagers interested in a potentially depressing topic?

Let’s go back to last June, when my administration asked me to teach the NASA capstone on climate change for the 16/17 school. How exciting! This was great: finally an invitation to spend a whole year teaching a topic that I had been ‘working in’ for so many years – the most important global issue of our day.

This was also scary to me: what a responsibility. It would be so easy to send my students into complete shutdown concerning this topic, yet it’s so important that they understand it. There are tons of resources out there – an overwhelming amount – and the NASA resources had some great stuff, but it’s all too much, yet not enough at the same time. So that’s why I am here.

I’ve been including climate change into my curriculum for years; every year I try to incorporate a bit more. But I always felt that I was pulling back, leaving parts undone. Heaven knows that the study of the Earth’s climate stretches across multiple genres — geology, oceanography, biology, ecology, chemistry, climatology at the very least (let’s not even go into the social, economic, and ethical issues). Leaving parts out is necessary, but how do you create a connected knowledge base that will allow your students enough information to ask their own questions without overwhelming them with the science and gravity of it all? It’s a quandary.

The opportunity to join Climate Generation as an Education Ambassador was a lifesaver. They were offering resources galore, and more importantly, mentoring, personal assistance in locating resources and experts, and discussions with others who share my passion. Teaching a new class with no community can be lonely and hard. Climate Generation is filling a huge gap in this year’s curriculum planning. Last year when we were talking about global warming it was winter in Chicago. The idea of global warming loses some of its punch when it’s 0°F outside, and pointing out that there are record heat waves in Australia felt like cherry-picking data just to prove a point (which I sort of was). Students need to understand the global significance and they should appreciate the importance of the anomaly from the norm.

This year I thought I would have each of my eight tables focus on an assigned region of the world (North America, East Asia, Australia, etc.) and create journal logs to tract their weather. This way, they’ll learn to understand that temperatures in the 40s in Alaska in January can be record-breakers, and 110°F is hot anywhere, even in an Australian summer. Having never done this activity before, and wanting to continue it for entire school year requires planning, and I anticipate glitches. It will be nice having someone to talk this out with, someone to help fine-tune the details.

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