What’s Being Taught to Our Children?

Since I posted Our Children Are Our Future this past April I’ve been thinking about what more I could do to make sure my children and grandchildren are aware of climate change issues.  Armed with this knowledge, they will be better positioned to make good choices.  But what about all the other children?   What are they learning about climate change?  What is being taught in their schools?

These questions led me to do some research to see what is being taught in our schools regarding climate change.  The results were disappointing, but promising. According to an NPR/Ipsos poll, more than 80% of parents in the U.S. support the teaching of climate change.  A separate poll of teachers found that they are even more supportive, in theory — 86% agree that climate change should be taught.  But despite this level of parental and teacher support, and the interests of students – take for example the upcoming September Strike for Climate Change – most teachers aren’t actually talking about climate change in their classrooms. And fewer than half of parents have discussed the issue with their children. 

Most states have classroom standards that at least mention human-caused climate change, but in reality, classroom discussions are not always happening: Fewer than half of K-12 teachers that participated in the survey said that they talk about climate change with their children or students. Again, parents were about the same.  The top reason that teachers gave for not covering climate change? “It’s not related to the subjects I teach,” 65% said.  Other reasons cited include: “Children are too young” (20%); “I don’t know enough about it” (17%); “I don’t have the materials I need to teach the subject” (17%); and “I don’t believe in climate change” (8%).

Yet at the same time, there are teachers and education organizations who are introducing the topic in subjects from social studies to math to English language arts, and at every grade level, from preschool on up.  For example, the State of California has created an innovative program called “Ten Strands, Connecting Education, Environment, and Community.”  This K-12 program integrates environmental literacy into existing instructional plans, professional learning programs, and student assessments rather than burdening educators by requiring them to teach another subject.  It’s impressive.  Click the link above for a more detailed discussion.

At a more local level, I found an interesting article describing eight creative ways climate change can be taught in almost any classroom.

1. Do a lab.  Lab activities can be one of the most effective ways to show children how global warming works on an accessible scale.

2. Show a movie – e.g., the 2016 documentary Before the Flood.

3. Assign a novel – e.g., 2013 novel by Mindy McGinnis called Not a Drop to Drink.

4. Do citizen science – e.g., collect nearby water samples and examine for plastics, or take pictures of cloud formations and measure temperatures, to see changes in weather patterns over time.

5. Assign a research project, multimedia presentation or speech such as the use of plastics, minimalism, and other environmental issues.

6. Talk about your personal experience – e.g., discuss changes in weather events.

7. Do a service project – e.g., stress the importance of eliminating waste by recycling and picking up around your neighborhood.

8. Start or work in a school garden and in the process, explain soil carbon sequestration and regenerative agriculture.

So, if you’re a teacher, or an interested parent, and if you feel you’re lacking in resources, here are some excellent sources.

Alliance for Climate Education has a multimedia resource called Our Climate Our Future, plus more resources for educators and several action programs for youth.

The American Association of Geographers has free online professional development resources for teachers.

American Reading Co. sells an English Language Arts curriculum called ARCCore that includes climate change themes.

Biointeractive, created by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has hundreds of free online education resources, including many on education and the environment, and it offers professional development for teachers.

Climate Generation offers professional development for educators nationwide and a youth network in Minnesota.

CLEAN (Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network) has a collection of resources organized in part by the Next Generation Science Standard it is aligned with.

Global Oneness Project offers lesson plans that come with films and videos of climate impacts around the world.

Google offers free online environmental sustainability lesson plans for grades 5-8.

The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility has a group of 19 lessons for K-12.

The National Center for Science Education has free climate change lessons that focus on combating misinformation. They also have a “scientist in the classroom” program.

The National Science Teachers Association has a comprehensive curriculum.

The Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, N.Y., has a book called the Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change.

Ripple Effect “creates STEM curriculum” for K-6 “about real people and places impacted by climate change,” starting with New Orleans.

Ten Strands offers professional learning to educators in California in partnership with the state’s recycling authority and an outdoor-education program, among others.

Think Earth offers 9 environmental education units from preschool through middle school.

The Zinn Education Project (based on the work of Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History Of The United States) has launched a group of 18 lessons aimed specifically at climate justice. Some are drawn from this book: A People’s Curriculum For The Earth: Teaching Climate Change And The Environmental Crisis.

Let’s talk

My conclusion: teaching climate change is a challenge and it will not happen by itself; it requires work.  But saving the planet for our kids is a pretty huge payoff for the effort.  Something to think about.  And if you’re a parent, when you attend a back to school night, or a principal’s meeting, consider asking what is being taught relative to climate change.  Starting the conversation may be one of the most important things you can do.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

                                                                                                – Nelson Mandela

2 thoughts on “What’s Being Taught to Our Children?

  1. Great post, TFG!

    “It’s not related to the subjects I teach” at 65% <==== that tells me that the teachers would also benefit from lesson-planning and learning about how climate change relates to their subjects.


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