Social (climate change) studies: Making room for climate change in social studies education

c3coverWhen you think about teaching climate change, you probably see a science classroom. Lots of graphs, data, and experiments. But don’t get too comfortable at that lab station. Understanding the science of climate change is incredibly important, but also important is understanding the economic, politcal and social impacts. Schools need to be including climate change in the social studies classroom, as well as in the science lab.  

The C3 Framework for Social Studies Standards was written in 2013 and, much like the Framework for K-12 Science Education that help guide science education, it is a powerful guide to help states strengthen instruction in the social studies.The C3 Framework recognizes that, “Now more than ever, students need the intellectual power to recognize societal problems; ask good questions and develop robust investigations into them; consider possible solutions and consequences; separate evidence-based claims from parochial opinions; and communicate and act upon what they learn.” The repercussions of climate change are being seen today in all sectors of society and students need to understand this to contemplate possible solutions. In addition, communicating and knowing how to engage as citizens to respond to the impacts of climate change are essential lifelong skills.

The C3 Framework does not lay out content for social studies classrooms, but rather the skills that students need to be ready for college, career, and civic life. This is the perfect place for climate change to enter the conversation.

Lori M. Kumler and Bethany Vosburg-Bluem’s article, Climate Change in the

Social Studies Classroom: A “Why” and “How to” Guide Using the C3 Framework (Social Education, 2014), provides a compelling argument for how and why climate change should be integrated into the social studies classroom. Within the C3 Framework for Social Studies Standards, climate change shows up most prominently in Geography; but can easily be incorporated into Civics or Economics. A large part of Geography is understanding human-environment interactions and the spatial patterns and movements of the human population. Climate change plays into all of these interactions. In Civics, common topics include democratic participation and deliberation. These topics could come alive through a discussion of the events and process of the COP21 climate talks. And in Economics, climate change could be discussed with regard to how it will impact national and global economies. The Department of Defense has even released a report that states, “Global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries.”

Beyond the main intersections of climate change with the national economy and human populations, the C3 Framework prepares students in the construction of supporting questions, developing claims, and communicating conclusions. Incorporating climate change into the social studies classroom would provide a wealth of opportunities for this type of inquiry.

If you are a social studies teacher, you may want to give this blog post a read to see how the C3 Framework will affect your classroom. This Fact Sheet can also help with some of the questions you might have about the C3 Framework and how it can help you and your school strengthen social studies content.

We are also happy to share several resources that could be used in the social studies classroom:

  • Our Citizen Climate curriculum is for high school students and focuses on global climate solutions. This curriculum emphasizes civic engagement and helps teachers and students understand the critical and complex climate solutions being discussed on the national and international stage, including equity in international climate change negotiations. Each of our curricula are aligned to Minnesota state science, Language Arts, and social studies standards.
  • National Climate Assessment: This website showcases each region of the United States and lists key messages of how climate change will be affecting those regions the most. These key messages include information on sea level changes, reduced snowpack, and heat threats. It is a great tool to examine the impact of climate change on human health, infrastructure, or the water supply.
  • Climate Generation has sponsored or brought delegations of youth and teachers to the UNFCCC’s Conference of Parties (international climate talks) since COP15. Our collection of blog reflections and archived webinars help to bring the talks alive. Look back at our youth delegation to COP15 in 2009, and teacher delegation to COP21 in 2015.
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