Climate Change: An Opportunity for STEM Education

Dr. Mubina Schroeder is an Associate Professor at Molloy College and is a Kappa Delta Pi United Nations Professional Representative.

In preparation for the upcoming Climate Change Summit at the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated:

“We need rapid and deep change in how we do business, generate power, build cities and feed the world.” 

Climate change and its far-reaching effects on the lives of everyone in the global community represent a unique challenge for society—and a unique opportunity for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. STEM educators often contend with ways to promote scientific literacy.

How can we create the next generation of critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, and solution engineers?

One pathway is to promote awareness of socioscientific issues (SSI). Zeidler and Nicols (2009) describe SSI:

“Socioscientific issues involve the deliberate use of scientific topics that require students to engage in dialogue, discussion and debate. They are usually controversial in nature but have the added element of requiring a degree of moral reasoning or the evaluation of ethical concerns in the process of arriving at decisions regarding possible resolution of those issues. The intent is that such issues are personally meaningful and engaging to students, require the use of evidence-based reasoning, and provide a context for understanding scientific information.”

Climate change is an issue that affects every corner of the world, and students in every classroom may be witness to some of its effects. 

Several regions in the world have experienced unprecedented heat waves, water shortages, and extreme weather events–all because of climate change. The beauty of teaching using an SSI approach is that socioscientific issues often are complicated and multifaceted–allowing STEM pedagogues to be creative in teaching about them.

Some great resources on teaching about climate change can be found here:

References

Zeidler, D. L., & Nichols, B. H. (2009). Socioscientific issues: Theory and practice. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 21(2), 49.

How to Incorporate Environmental Science in Your Classroom

Rodriguez-Kaitlyn_blogHi there – it’s Kaitlyn Rodriguez again.

Sustainability and conservation are both key in helping the Earth.

Lately, more than ever, it seems that companies and organizations are moving toward more “green” practices.

Solar panels and alternative energy sources are becoming more prevalent. Recycling initiatives are seen everywhere.

Schools must now start incorporating these practices into the classroom and teaching students how to protect and help the Earth—but how?

With new curriculum standards and practices being mandated, many teachers feel overwhelmed and without enough time for “extra” activities.

What some people don’t know, however, is how simple it can be to incorporate green practices into their daily curriculum and schools. Below are suggestions of what teachers can do to learn more about being eco-friendly, teaching their students about the environment, and helping their school and community.

  1. Host environmental cleanup days. Whether scheduled weekly or monthly, having cleanups at the park, beach, or even school can be simple, fun, and family-friendly activities for all to participate.
  2. Increase the emphasis of environmental concerns in the curriculum. Environmental issues can be incorporated into any grade level and subject. Besides the obvious science lessons, English lessons can involve students writing research reports on endangered species or writing persuasive letters to local officials, urging them to increase their environmental awareness. Social Studies lessons can involve looking at the timelines and history of conservation efforts and sustainable practices, while examining local and national politics regarding the environment.
    • Some organizations offer teacher resources to teach environmental awareness in the classroom. In New York State, for example, the Department of Environmental Conservation hosts a series of educator workshops that provide all attendees with a book of resources, lessons, and curriculum suggestions (dec.ny.gov/education/2035.html).
  3. Go on a field trip! Kids love getting out of the classroom. By going to nature centers or places that deal with the conservation of a particular species, you are helping to make the world more sustainable. Show your students that some people work on these initiatives all their lives, which could be something they may want to do when they get older. If traveling to the site would pose an issue, work with your building administrators on bringing the organizations to your school. A simple Google search provides myriad results for field trip ideas in each state (e.g., Kansas: www.ifamilykc.com/blog/education-learning/field-trip-ideas).
  4. Take the classroom outside. Teach a lesson outdoors to give your students the chance to get some fresh air. Let them put what they’re learning to use in their local community. Go for a nature walk and teach your class about observations and predictions. Test a science experiment outside. Bring your class to an open field and let the nature around them provide inspiration for poetry or any form of writing.
  5. Make a STEAM project assignment that involves recycled or upcycled materials. Assign your class a project over a break that involves using recycled/recyclable materials to create something new, such as a robot. Keeping a project open-ended allows students to display their creativity and interests. Here are some suggestions of activities: https://leftbraincraftbrain.com/stem-goes-green-17-upcycled-and-earth-friendly-projects-for-kids
  6. Provide students, faculty, and staff with environmental, conservation, and sustainability resources from local organizations. Providing literature on what one can do and how one can help—and what can result from one person’s efforts—can offer the motivation to get involved and become interested in these topics. Increasing the availability of such resources in each classroom also is important. Scholastic has nonfiction articles for the younger grades, and National Geographic also makes magazines and articles that students can read. Look for ways to add more nonfiction pieces to your classroom library. Here are some books you may be interested in buying for your classroom: www.amightygirl.com/mighty-girl-picks/top-children-s-books-on-the-environment
  7. Start a Go Green initiative in your classroom and school. Set up recycling bins around the school. Have your students use both sides of their paper. If copies are made incorrectly, or you have extra paper, keep a scrap paper bin for students to use for projects, drafting ideas, and more. If you can afford it, or fundraise for it, buy your students metal water bottles to bring to class instead of plastic bottles. Model for the students what it means to Go Green and they will follow in your footsteps!

These are only seven ways to make your classroom and school a greener one.

If every classroom were to do at least one of these suggestions, just imagine the impact all those students could make on the world.

Tell us how you plan on incorporating sustainable practices in your classroom this year on the Educator Learning Network!

Sources

Food Systems Education: Linking Big Ideas Across The School Community

HopeStartsHere

Farm to School (FTS) programs are cropping up around the country, connecting students to sustainability efforts in their own school communities.

The 3Cs framework of FTS puts the learner at the center of the school food system, connecting the Cafeteria, Classroom, and Community through education and action. FTS helps students access nutritious and fresh foods, provides meaningful and relevant curriculum, and connects student learning to the real world of farming and food systems. Most importantly, it highlights each student’s role within the food system, as a participant and potential agent of sustainable change.

Food systems education is where educators play a vital role in this whole-school–whole-community approach. You can bring math, literacy, social studies, and science alive when you connect students to the elegant simplicity and complexity of local to global food systems.

The Big Ideas of Sustainability (bit.ly/ SFBigIdeas) can inspire cross-disciplinary connections and school-wide engagement, as well as deepen community partnerships, campus practices, and culture. Try these suggestions.

Start with big ideas, themes and standards

The Big Idea of Change links with thematic strands (www.socialstudies.org/standards/strands) in the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies such as People, Places, and Environments; Culture; and Time, Continuity, and Change. These standards help us develop learning outcomes—knowledge and skills we want students to gain.

Add inquiry

Learners are naturally curious. Give them a question that they can engage with and develop an understanding of over time. An essential question such as, “In what ways does the land shape culture?” invites deep crosscurricular exploration and learning.

Next, layer on food systems and your local place

By integrating food production and engaging with local farmers, historians, and the students’ families, they begin to see the connections to their place and lives. You can create learning activities to explore why people settled near rivers in your community, how human migration patterns have changed over time, and how shifting demographics have shaped the food and culture of your city.

Wrap up with an assessment:

You may have purposefully linked big ideas, standards, the local place, and food systems, but did your students get it? Create an assessment that helps you see what your students understand. For example, a class could create a museum display for their community illustrating how human migration has impacted the natural and agricultural systems in their city.

Suggested Activities

  • Write haikus about your fresh fruit and vegetable snacks.
  • Plant seeds for a school garden exploring plant life cycles.
  • Learn about food access and healthy foods in your community.
  • Start a school-run farmers’ market.
  • Run a semester-long inquiry into food justice.

No matter where you begin, a wealth of resources is available to get you started.

Resources

Image result for jen cirillo shelburne farmsMs. Cirillo is the Director of Professional Learning at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont. She supports educators and schools to use the lens of sustainability for curriculum, campus practices and culture, and community partnerships.

Little Landowners: Caring for Nature

Photo credit: Devan King/The Nature Conservancy

Picture this: you’re a kid, it’s a sunny yet breezy summer afternoon—one that you wish would never end.

You’re hiking on trails, then make a mad dash through a corridor of pine trees.

You get to cross a trickling creek and wander through an old hay field that’s slowly returning to forest. When you’re done exploring you try to locate your very own piece of this amazing place.

Your spot? Yes – a piece of land that’s just for you, inside the Children of Indiana Nature Park.

The Children of Indiana Nature Park (Park) is nestled in eastern Indiana, spanning over 30 acres on the Cope Environmental Center property. A creek, a hay field and rows upon rows of pines are found here. The Park is the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors, then zoom in your spot using GPS coordinates that are yours only.

Where do these coordinates come from? They come from your “Nature IN-Deed,” a special gift from the State of Indiana. In celebration of Indiana’s 200th birthday, every child in Indiana was given the opportunity to own a piece of nature. Kids can download their Nature IN-Deeds at ilovemyland.org.

The State—and the other partners involved in the Park—want this Nature IN-Deed to be the stepping stone that will get all kids outside and start reaping the many benefits of nature.

Our society has seen a major shift in how children spend their free time.

Photo credit: © Jessica Scranton

Before screen time, extra-extracurricular activities, and jam-packed schedules kids grew up exploring their backyards and discovering outdoors during their exploration. Since the 1990s, time spent outside has since been replaced with technology and organized activities.

In fact, only about 10% of children spend time outside compared to 40% just a generation ago[1].

Parents and teachers can register their students for a deed to the Park by visiting www.ilovemyland.org. Each deed is unique to the individual that holds it; no two deeds are alike. Once registered, the student, parent, or teacher, can punch in their coordinates and find their spot, either virtually or during a visit to the Park. Children are encouraged to keep their deeds in a special place, so that they can pass down the ownership of their land to their children and grandchildren.

 

Kids connect best with nature when they play frequently and freely in a nature place near them, and for most children, those “near places” are home and school.  As educators, providing opportunities for your students to explore the greenspace at your school or on field trips can help your students receive the benefits that nature provides, and further nurture kids’ desire to care for nature.

What ideas do you have for kindling a love for nature with the students at your school?

We’d love to hear them! Comment on this post or email us at ChildrenOfIndianaNaturePark@tnc.org.

Mary McConnell

Author: Mary McConnell, Director (retired), The Nature Conservancy Indiana Chapter

[1] Oxford Junior Dictionary’s replacement of ‘natural’ words with 21st-century terms sparks outcry.   Flood, Alison.  The Guardian.  January 15, 2015.

The Outdoor Classroom: Where Nature Nurtures Kids’ Ability to Learn

magnifying-glassModern life often moves at a frantic pace: families, friends, and others often maintain full schedules with little time allowed to pause and take in what is happening around them.

For students arriving at school for the day, their morning may have been a blur of activity – hopping out of bed, getting dressed, eating a quick breakfast, then grabbing their backpack to head off to school.

A student’s day—like those of most adults—is often just moving, from one car, classroom, or building to another. The outside world oven gets overlooked. But it’s this outside world that may help students inside.

stewardshipAs adults, we know that the ability to focus on the task at hand can ensure its success. We also know that sometimes it is easier to maintain our focus than at other times.

The process of becoming better able to focus is where nature can help. And often it’s just a matter of getting kids outside.

In one study[1], children who spent one class session in a natural outdoor setting were more engaged and less distracted during indoor class time afterward than if they had been indoors for two consecutive classes.

Some teachers may have concerns that an outdoor classroom would over-stimulate students, making them less able to focus afterwards. Yet this study found the opposite to be true: classroom engagement was better for those students exposed to nature than those students taught solely in an indoor classroom.

studentsBeing in nature not only helps students to be more focused, it also introduces students to the first step in the scientific method: to observe

From watching the clouds while looking up at the sky, to rolling back a fallen log to investigate which creatures live underneath, to watching a flower emerge from the ground and ultimately bloom in springtime, nature offers an infinite number of opportunities to witness how plants, animals and climate interact.

Observation can lead to asking questions, instilling a curiosity about our natural world that spills over into the classroom.

And as teachers know, curious children make better students.

A student who develops a question based on their personal observation is developing curiosity and critical thinking skills.

See what these educators have to say about the benefits of nature for young learners.

Nature provides engaging and relaxing ways for students to learn, so let’s make the most of our greenspace to expand and transform children’s learning experiences.

Learn more by visiting www.ILoveMyLand.org today.

Questions? Contact us at ChildrenofIndianaNaturePark@tnc.org

Mary McConnell

Author: Mary McConnell, Director, The Nature Conservancy Indiana Chapter

[1] Lessons in nature boost classroom engagement afterward. Yates, Diana. University of Illinois. January 17, 2018.