Teach Climate Change Through Positive Action
Originally published 8/16/15. Links and some content updated 7/09/18 by the editors.
A new school year is beginning, and many teachers might find themselves teaching about climate change and energy conservation in your classroom. We all know that we want to avoid fear tactics and focus instead on giving students the knowledge and confidence to make a positive impact on the environment.
Here are seven ways you can encourage students to begin to think globally about climate change and act locally to be part of the solution.
1. Collect Cool Concepts to help to tell the story of climate change. From the scientist who discovered oxygen to the marine biologists and oceanographers who study how climate impacts the ocean ecosystem, there are many good stories that can help put the study of climate change into perspective. Here are some cool concepts to help your class get started:
► Did you know the first solar house in the United States was designed and built by two women? Find out who they are, where the first solar house was built, and how their work contributed to defeating misconceptions about solar. Have students create a mini presentation.
► Have students practice their internet research skills by identifying these two people: (1) the oceanographer who has spent close to one year of her life underwater; and (2) the national President who held the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting in 2009 to highlight the impacts of climate change on his country.
► Students can also search for pictures of phytoplankton “bloom” taken from space. Make a concept map that showcases how phytoplankton are vital to the ocean food chain and how they influence our global climate (NASA photo).
2. Tune in to climate messages on social media and join the climate conversation. Students need to feel their actions and efforts are connected to a larger activist community. One way to do this is by following and communicating through the Twitter hashtag #ActOnClimate where many climate experts share information.
► To get started, have students take photos of individuals in their community doing climate friendly acts and make a class or school Pinterest board.
► Have a class competition to see which classroom can have every student complete the US Department of Energy’s Energy Action List activities in one month and learn “10 Simple Ways to Use Energy Wisely.” Post the winners on Facebook with the hashtag #ActOnClimate.
► Create a school “Green Team” of parents, teachers and students who care about climate and can contribute to a shared blog or a newsletter.
3. Investigate climate change. Use digital resources like quizzes, games and online forums to learn about climate change.
► NASA’s Climate Kids is a good place to get started. It helps to bring introductory concepts like climate and weather patterns into your classroom.
► Want students to understand the link between climate and the environment? Check out Recycle City, an interactive site for kids developed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The DumpTown game lets students explore how homes and businesses can recycle, reuse or reduce waste through the efforts of government and citizens.
► As students learn more about the impact of various elements (heavy metals, gases, acids, etc.), take advantage of the virtual interactive Periodic Table to learn more about the elemental players.
4. Involve students in Making. Find hands-on activities that you can do right in your classroom to help students understand climate science. There are many free energy education and climate resources. To help you get started:
► Use this simple one hour activity as a warm-up – build a solar oven from a pizza box to help kids understand the power of the sun.
► Find free peer-reviewed lessons on climate and energy at CLEAN, the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network.
► Tap into the free teacher guides and student energy conservation activities available from the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project.
5. Energy conservation begins at school. Students can ask the principal, other teachers, and school board members to help green your school. From recycling programs to changing lightbulbs and planting trees, your students can lead the way in helping with climate change solutions. Here are some tips and programs to get started:
► Have your class create your own project or join a project for the next Green Apple Day of Service. Projects are dedicated to creating healthy learning environments. This could include cleaning up garbage around your school or investigating nearby environmental problems.
► Have your class join the Billion Acts of Green movement by having your school make a pledge for an activity, program or project for Earth Day. One idea is to get 10 free trees from the Arbor Foundation and plant them in your schoolyard.
► Create a garden at your school. Find resources and tips from US Department of Agriculture. Once your garden is ready, register it as a People’s Garden, and your garden will be displayed on the People’s Garden Map to showcase your efforts.
6. Learn about the technologies of renewable energy. Technology is important to our future and renewable energy is helping us to advance. Teach your students about solar, biomass, geothermal and electric vehicles that are all demonstrating how we can power our lives with clean energy.
► Use the Department of Energy’s Energy 101 videos to introduce renewable technology.
► And use the Women@Energy series to learn about the research of scientists and engineers at the Department of Energy.
7. Excite youth by telling them about renewable energy inventions. From the solar bike path in the Netherlands to solar powered trash bins, renewable energy inventions are everywhere these days. Some of these inventions are even designed and built by youth.
► Learn how 19-year old Boyan Slat is helping to clean up the ocean with his invention, the Ocean Cleanup Array.
► Hear the power of a voice: the girl who silenced the World for 5 minutes was 12 years old when she first spoke at the Rio Earth Summit.
► Find out more about the annual national Young Scientist Challenge and search for projects that impact climate change.
All of these stories and inventions will help your students think about the power, knowledge and ideas they have that can help make the world a greener, safer, and more sustainable place to live.
Image credit: Solar pizza oven – SteveSpanglerScience.com
Joshua Sneideman (@STEMagogy) is a STEM educator and former middle school science teacher. He was an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the Department of Energy (2013-15). Erin Twamley is an energy education specialist and international educator (website). She is a leader in providing climate and energy information for STEM education efforts. They co-authored the book, Climate Change: Discover How It Impacts Spaceship Earth to positively engage youth in learning about and addressing climate change.