We have been hearing a lot lately about the current crisis with our climate and the need and desire for quality climate science education. NPR recently released a study stating that 80% of parents support the teaching of climate change while many teachers are struggling with how best to do this. See their article helpful titled 8 Ways to Teach Climate Science in Almost Any Classroom. What we have in our culture and classrooms today is a lot of heavy data about a grim future. We as educators have the opportunity to empower our students to make positive changes that science confirms will improve our outlook! How amazing is that? Ours students can be a part of this solution now in their classrooms while learning the standards we are required to teach!
PBL, Learning by Doing
As mentioned in the articles above, citizen science, school gardens, and service projects are excellent pathways for engaging in climate science instruction. I have found great success incorporating Project Based Learning (PBL) in my unit design when teaching climate science. Local partners within your community can provide rich resources and opportunities for engaging your students in citizen science and PBL.
About five years ago on Whidbey Island where I live, there was a problem at South Whidbey State Park. The trees had gotten a disease and were in danger of falling. These are old growth douglas fir trees and posed a threat to campers sleeping below! The state had to make a very tough decision, log the old growth forest and get rid of diseased trees, which were very hard to find without cutting into the tree, or close the campground to overnight use. Neither of theses solutions were perfect or easy, and each had real consequence.
Working with the State Park, a grant from the Oak Harbor Education Foundation, and a local agency called Service, Education, Adventure (SEA) my students began to engage in this problem. We did research and wrote opinion pieces based on our data on which option would be the best. We traveled to the State Park and worked with rangers and Americorps volunteers to do a tree assessment in the forest. Students presented their findings to park officials and used their data to help determine which option they would recommend in their writing. In the process of this work, we learned how to identify trees, how to measure their height, about Laminated Root Rot, and what a healthy tree needs. My students were the experts at the end of our project, and they were able to present their recommendations and data to the local and state community.
Diving Into a Project
So much is out there as far a climate science that provides real opportunity for students to design solutions! These concepts are cross-curricular touching on social science as well as climate science, literacy, math, communication, and many other subjects along the way. The key is to listen to your students, and find a relevant idea or problem to where they are at and challenge them to find the solution. Then, determine and entry event to engage them in finding those solutions. In the example above, I had a local park ranger come and speak to my class and explain the problem, inviting them to help with the solution by engaging in research and reporting back to her. They were hooked, and many spent free time working on this project!
Key Components to PBL: Designing your Project Using The Key Components
Learning Goals: Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills
- Challenging Problems or Question
- Sustained Inquiry
- Student Voice and Choice
- Critique and Revision
- Public Product
Deep Learning and Engagement Over Time
These types of projects require sustained inquiry over time. After our initial visit with the park ranger, students had many opportunities to revise their thinking and as they gain new understanding along the way. Students spent their computer lab time collaboration on research projects, learned from foresters how to complete tree surveys before our field study, and had several visits from local informal educators including sound water stewards, and the South Whidbey State Park to help us investigate the types of trees we would be seeing and learn ways do. By the time of our visit, students had context and knowledge of the project and were comfortable assessing the trees. They were able to take their knowledge and apply it immediately back in the classroom writing reports based on their field data. Students created a public product to present to park and community officials, and shared their data and reports with the Oak Harbor Education Foundation who funded the project. Writing, thinking, discussing, and presenting helped our students make their thinking their own and each walked away with a deeper understanding of ecosystems, change over time, and the social and political implications of environmental issues while feeling a part of the solution.
So What Happened at the Park?
In the end, after a statewide study, State Parks decided to preserve the trees as long as possible and close overnight camping. Day use hiking is still permitted in the old campground area. Our students were able to witness the process of statewide agencies making important decisions and provide their own voice in the process. Student reports were shared with advisory committees during the process and students were able to communicate directly with official park staff and local community scientists and volunteers their thinking based on research. Some of our students agreed with this decision and others did not, but all respected the process and each others thinking.
We are at a very critical time on our planet in the topic of climate science and our students are inheriting the decisions of people who lived before them. There are many negative messages out there surroundings. Not only does project based learning on climate science issues offer ways for students to come up with solutions, but it legitimately helps us solve those pressing problems. There are countless examples on a global and local level of students taking action and making real and positive change on climate issues, and the classroom is a great place to help our kids explore the difference they can make.
Where can I learn More?
Check out these CORELaborate Blog Posts for inspiration and resources:
Every. Single. Scientist. by Erin Lark
Navigating Research Project Season by Aron Early
Growing Student Engagement Through School Gardens by Jodi Crimmins
The Best Lesson I Ever Taught in 2018 by Camille Jones
We are All Prototypes by Erin Lark
Information on PBL:
- The Buck Institute for Education runs a site called PBLworks which highlights the Gold Standard for PBL as well as many tools for producing your own units.
- Planning tools from PBL works.
- Edutopia has several article on PBL. Here is an example unit with lessons.
Do you teach climate science? Have you worked with community organizations to engage in citizen science with your students? What do you feel are the biggest setbacks educator face today to teaching climate science?
- Citizen Science
- Climate Science
- problem solving
- Project Based Learning