“Climate change is real”
Say new state standards & NYSSBA 

Late in August — just in time for the new school year and new state science standards that require instruction on climate change — the NYS School Boards Association released a report exploring the intersection of money, ideology, and science in our classrooms.

“When it comes to teaching about climate change,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy Kremer, “it certainly appears that politics and economics, not science, are driving the debate.”

The report,  When Politics Enters the Classroom: Teaching about Climate Change, recommends that school districts and teachers avoid debate and let the data speak for itself. In a concise 16-pages the study offers resources and tips for school boards and teachers while also addressing larger issues, such as why climate change is controversial.

A “key idea” in NYS standards adopted in 1996 is that “Human decisions have had a profound impact on the physical and living environment.” New this year is a requirement that all grades consider “global climate change” to be a “core idea.” The new standards state, “Human activities are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming).” [New York State P-12 Science Learning Standards, Disciplinary Core Idea ESS3.D: Global Climate Change, pages 47, 76, and 78.]

NYSSBA’s report offers suggestions for school boards on how best to address this politically charged topic and provides examples of best practices in teaching. Judy Selig, a biology and chemistry teacher at Ballston Spa High School, is one of the featured educators. She focuses on “evidence and interpretation of evidence” and says it’s up to students to “accept the evidence and interpretation or not.”

The report describes how Selig’s students developed climate action plans — blueprints to help them define and carry out activities to reduce their carbon footprints. And, during a Youth Climate Summit held in May 2017, students learned how to write a climate action plan. Ballston Spa school staff designed the summit with help from The Wild Center, a nature preserve in Tupper Lake.


Ballston Spa students working on their projects. Photo at left is from the report. Right: Joseph Phelan, digitalfirstmedia.com.

Circling back

In June we posted about the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) campaign urging, “Just teach science….” NSTA  joined with the National Center for Science Education, George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, the Campaign for Environmental Literacy, the North American Association for Environmental Education, and the National Wildlife Federation to reject the Heartland Institute‘s effort to confuse teachers with a free book arguing that scientists disagree about climate change and its causes.

In fact, multiple studies (here and here, for instance) indicate scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change is real and that humans are a contributing factor. The NYSSBA report calls out Heartland for trying to distort the science and says that insufficient attention to climate change in teacher education programs and a lack of updated textbooks may make it hard for teachers to refute such groups.

The June post includes a range of  resources to help teachers — and others — address climate change. Here are two more. The National Climate Assessment evaluates climate change from nationwide and regional perspectives.  Explore highlights of the report and response strategies. More than 300 experts, guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee, created the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel from the National Academy of Sciences.

In 2014, THV and the Hudson River Estuary Program, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, co-hosted a daylong professional development session for educators. Get resources from that program here. Several THV summer institutes have featured workshops on climate change; search for them here. THV’s online library includes two related activities/lessons for HS students from the Cary Institute’s Changing Hudson Project:  Land Use Change: Paleoclimate of the Hudson  Valley and Weather & Climate: Hudson River Temperature.

Participants at the 2014 program Covering Climate Change in the Classroom.  (Bill Urbin, National Park Service)

The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change (284 pages) is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation. Edited by Ingrid H. H. Zabel, Don Duggan-Haas, and Robert M. Ross, it was published in 2017 by the Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, NY.  Purchase a copy for $25 or download a free PDF here.  One in a series of teacher friendly science books by PRI, the guide includes a glossary and FAQ. Most chapters are relatively short and zero in on specific topics.

Founded in 1932, PRI publishes the oldest paleontological journal in the Western Hemisphere, begun in 1895. It also manages the Museum of the Earth and the Cayuga Nature Center. Both are separate from, but formally affiliated with Cornell University, and interact closely with numerous University departments in research, teaching, and public outreach.

Kelly Escarcega is a recent graduate of John Brown University in Arkansas. She spent the summer with THV as part of the National Park Service Academy, Student Conservation Association, and AmeriCorps. Debi Duke is THV’s coordinator.