Teaching global warming? Here’s help.

“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.” ― Lee Iacocca

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.” ― Jacques Barzun

Lee Iacocca, the former chair of Chrysler who famously saved the company from bankruptcy, and who passed away just days ago, had it right: teachers – those who teach not merely facts but critical thinking, enthusiasm for learning and for the truth – are pivotally important members of society. And though the rest of us may not formally identify ourselves with this group, we can’t escape that existential responsibility. We are constantly teaching our kids, our parents (!), our family and friends, not just by word but by action and example. In equal measure, we’re continually learning from others. Every minute of every day, in every conversation, in every human encounter, school is in session.

It’s easy for most of us to lose sight of this (hence the Barzun quote) – but teachers themselves retain that regard – and often feel weighed down by the responsibility.

All of which brings us to the teaching of climate science – and to a sliver of that subject especially timely and relevant for today’s young people: global warming.

As reported in Monday morning’s Washington Post, global warming isn’t exactly the most comfortable  educational terrain for teachers. An (extended) excerpt:

Schools across the United States are wrestling with how to incorporate the study of climate change into the classroom as its proximity and perils grow ever more apparent. According to a recent NPR/Ipsos poll, 86 percent of teachers and more than 80 percent of parents say the subject should be taught in school. But survey results in 2016 showed that while three-quarters of science teachers said they included lessons about climate change, they devoted little time to it and faced an array of obstacles.

The science behind climate change is complicated and evolving, and most teachers aren’t prepared to teach it well. Many textbooks don’t touch the topic, according to science educators.

“Climate and earth sciences more generally have been historically neglected in American science education,” said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, which tracks anti-science education legislation and develops curriculums like the one Lau was teaching. “Lots of teachers feel they don’t have the content knowledge or pedagogical know-how to teach climate change effectively.”

Then there are the politics…

The article goes on to mention teachers are turning to online materials for help.

Are you among that number? Chances are you’re looking for material that is accessible and authoritative. You want material that you can not just read, but fully digest – material that is so clear and compelling that you can own it. That’s the level of comprehension you need if you’re too pass along enthusiasm and insight for the topic to your students. You want material that distinguishes clearly between (1) climate science and (2) the societal implications and options for response, which are inherently more sensitive, even contentious.

In that case you might give this material developed by the American Meteorological Society’s Education Program a look: DataStreme Earth’s Climate System[1].

From the website (there’s more, much more, but this gets you started, hints at the flavor):

DataStreme Earth’s Climate System is a 13-week course offered twice a year to selected participants nationwide. Directed toward middle-school teachers, but open to all K–12 teachers, you will…

  • Investigate the relationships between global climate, the Earth’s atmosphere, and the world’s ocean
  • Discover causes of both natural and anthropogenic climate change
  • Utilize real-time data from NOAA, NASA, and other reputable sources
  • Investigate data and results from the most recent National Climate Assessment
  • Learn about climate models, climate variability, and predicting and adapting to the future

Check out the public, real-time data portal for DataStreme Earth’s Climate System.

Funded by the American Meteorological Society, the DataStreme Earth’s Climate System course has a strong leadership component where participants become a climate science leader and a part of a national community facilitated by the American Meteorological Society.

These resources haven’t been simply hastily thrown together. Instead they’ve been painstakingly crafted by experts in the field and honed by experience and use with teachers nationwide for years. DataStreme is constantly being refreshed. And the climate module isn’t a stand-alone, but part of a broader ecosystem of similar resources including DataStreme Atmosphere and DataStreme Oceans.

Materials you can build on, to bring subject matter that counts to students who will change the world.


[1] Full disclosure: I work at the AMS DC Office, right down the hall from the dedicated folks who produce these and related educational resources. Proud to say it.

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