Elective high school courses and postsecondary courses and programs differ from the required K-12 curriculum, noted Andy Anderson. The audience for upper level, elective courses is more limited, a situation that allows more freedom to innovate. Innovations developed in these contexts can also generate ideas for use in general K-12 classes. Karen Lionberger (College Board, Advanced Placement [AP] Program) described the AP Program in environmental science; LuAnne Thompson (University of Washington) described a dual-credit course for high school students offered by the University of Washington; Nicky Phear (University of Montana) described an interdisciplinary minor program on climate change offered at the University of Montana; and Matt Lappe (Alliance for Climate Education) described an award-winning climate change education program offered by a nonschool institution.
ADVANCED PLACEMENT ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
AP environmental science is a relatively young program, compared with the other AP science programs, noted Lionberger. Started in 1998, the course is currently being redesigned to incorporate more student-centered, inquiry-based experimentation and instruction and to focus more on developing deep understanding, rather than covering a broad range of material.
Climate issues are explicitly addressed in three of the components of
this one-semester course, she explained, each of which accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the total course content:
• earth systems and resources—the atmosphere (composition, structure, weather and climate, atmospheric circulation and the Coriolis effect, atmosphere-ocean interactions, El Niño/Southern Oscillation);
• the living world—natural ecosystem change (climate shifts, species movement, ecological succession); and
• global change—global warming (greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect, impacts and consequences of global warming, reducing climate change, relevant laws and treaties).
However, she added, climate is a theme that runs through most of the course; it arises naturally in the context of many of the topics covered, such as energy and the formation of fossil fuels. The course also addresses the human impacts of global warming, such as the spread of diseases and increases in mosquito populations and ranges based on temperature changes. Students are asked to go beyond the environmental impacts and address such issues as the potential effects of environmental changes on society and economic conditions.
AP environmental science is one of the fastest-growing AP courses, Lionberger noted, averaging annual growth rates of 17 to 20 percent per year. However, just over 100,000 students took the course in 2010 (out of over 3 million students who took all AP courses in 2010). Students are generally excited about this course, she added, and the course design makes it easy for teachers to engage students through fieldwork, helping them see the material’s relevance to their lives. One challenge for AP environmental science teachers is that few students come to the course having previously taken an earth systems or earth sciences course, whereas students in other AP science classes have often already taken a year’s worth of coursework in the subject. Thus, AP environmental science introduces students to a wide range of material. Lionberger observed that, “it’s an introduction to probably ten different majors that you could spend three years of intense coursework on. It really is a challenge to try to balance all of these topics and give students a broad but deep understanding.”
This challenge is one of the focuses of the redesign of the course, Lionberger noted. “They are moving away from what, as a teacher, you’d call the march of topics into depth of understanding. Instead of spitting out information, students will be required to justify, argue, look at data rationally, and make an argument for their decisions,” she explained. The program is also working on improving resources for teachers—not only for the AP teachers, but also for teachers at the elementary and middle
grades, so that they can better prepare students for the AP course. The AP program is also focusing on incorporating 21st century skills into the coursework and has joined the Partnership for 21st Century Skills in this effort.1
Above all, she said, “we want the students to become interested in science. We want them to fuel the STEM field and to be excited about doing that coursework.” The links with colleges and universities through which they validate the course content are invaluable in that regard, she added.
A DUAL-CREDIT COURSE ON CLIMATE
It is important for scientists to communicate with broader audiences about their research, but they face challenges in doing so, observed Thompson, a professor of oceanography and an adjunct professor of physics and atmospheric science at the University of Washington. Many are “kind of at a loss as to how to do it,” she noted, and often fall back on “one-off” presentations. That problem is one of the reasons why the University of Washington applied for grant funding to develop a college level course in climate science that could be offered in high schools. The primary goal was to connect research and education in climate science, she explained, and specifically to increase students’ sense of the relevance of science, to create a sustainable means of outreach for University of Washington science faculty, and to bring the depth and interdisciplinary nature of climate science to high schools.
There are programs throughout the country, Thompson noted, that offer college coursework in high schools. Typically, high school teachers are trained by faculty at partner postsecondary institutions to teach university-level courses, and the university oversees both the content and the assessments students take. Students earn both high school and college credit. Such dual-credit courses allow them to experience college level rigor in a familiar setting and also foster collaborative relationships between high schools and local colleges, Thompson explained.
In this case, the University of Washington establishes the curriculum activities, tests, and grading scales and selects the texts. The university offers such courses in English, foreign languages, calculus, geology, and other subjects. These courses provide an alternative to AP classes, Thompson commented, but also complement the AP program. Students do not earn credit through a single high-stakes test, but instead are evaluated as they would be in a college class and receive a grade that can go on their college transcript (AP exams yield credits that colleges may accept,
1 See http://www.p21.org/events-aamp-news/press-releases/1001-new-members-for-p21 [December 2011] for more information.
but not college grades). The current grant (from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) allows students to take the course without paying tuition, but ultimately, to sustain the course, students will have to pay tuition, she noted. Ten high school teachers have been trained to date, and the current grant should cover the training of an additional 10 by next year.
Climate and Climate Change is a five-credit course that is currently taught twice a year at the University of Washington as a lecture class. It is an introductory course for students not majoring in science and is required for those who wish to minor in climate studies. The university also offers a separate course on global warming that focuses on politics and sustainability, but the faculty chose to focus the option for high school students on climate science, Thompson noted. The course content overlaps significantly with the AP environmental science curriculum, covering:
• climate of the present—the global energy balance, atmospheric circulation, the role of oceans and ice in climate, the carbon cycle, and atmospheric composition;
• climate of the past, on time scales ranging from thousands to billions of years; and
• climate of the future—is the earth getting warmer? Why? How will the climate change over the next 100 years? Should people be concerned?
Building a teaching and learning community has been a primary goal for this project, Thompson emphasized, noting that many groups have gotten engaged and have benefited. Faculty and researchers in the departments of Atmospheric Sciences and Earth and Ocean Sciences are participating, which has helped improve their outreach to the community and ability to reach more students. Graduate students have been able to develop modules for the course and earn certification in the teaching of climate science. High school teachers have gained valuable experience through associated professional development opportunities. Undergraduate students have benefited from the recent establishment of a minor in climate science. High school students earn credit and a college grade, and gain college experience. In turn, the university hopes to encourage these students to matriculate and possibly boost enrollment in small departments, which helps the departments sustain themselves and grow (there are currently approximately 300 majors in the three sponsoring departments combined, compared with 1,300 in biology).
This degree of engagement is an important success of the program, Thompson observed. Highly qualified and engaged high school teach-
ers have been recruited, and there is support at the principal, district, and state levels. The program has been established to be sustainable, but it still faces challenges. Although the program in some ways complements the AP, there are a limited number of students who opt for higher level courses, so some competition is inevitable. Staff at the University of Washington are working with AP staff to coordinate the two programs, Thompson added. There are differences in the styles of campus lecture-based classes and the more hands-on high school ones, and Thompson noted that she hopes the hands-on approach will influence the college classes.
Another challenge has been the recruitment of teachers from beyond the Seattle area to offer these classes. Identifying qualified teachers and arranging for them to travel to Seattle to receive the training has been difficult, she noted. Earth science does not have high status among high school faculty at present, and relatively few teachers have taken atmospheric science.
AN INTERDISCIPLINARY CLIMATE CHANGE MINOR
There are currently very few opportunities for focused interdisciplinary study of climate change at the undergraduate level, noted Phear. The University of Montana introduced such a program in 2009, inspired by the work of Nobel laureate and faculty member Steven Running, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change author, who urged the university to recognize that global warming is likely to be the defining challenge for future generations and that students need to understand it and begin to respond. The university provost charged the faculty to design an undergraduate curriculum for the study of climate change that would be interdisciplinary and innovative and would emphasize problem solving and solutions.
The program was developed by a faculty task force representing many disciplines: geosciences, chemistry, geography, forestry and conservation, environmental studies, ethics/philosophy, communications, economics, political science, sociology, business technology, energy technology, and journalism. Also involved were representatives from the university’s Wilderness Institute, through which students study wilderness and its stewardship through education, research, and service, and the Mansfield Center, which sponsors programs on Asian affairs, ethics, and public affairs.
This group’s collaboration produced a plan for a minor in climate change studies that would be available to students from all majors. It requires them to take 21 credits, including a 3-credit interdisciplinary introductory course and 6 credits each in three areas: climate change science, climate change and society, and climate change solutions.
The science curriculum, Phear explained, introduces students to the basic processes by which the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and cryosphere interact to produce and respond to climatic changes. The curriculum related to society provides students with the opportunity to evaluate the social, political, economic, and ethical dimensions of climate change at the local, national, and international levels. The solutions portion of the curriculum creates opportunities for students to study, develop, and implement solutions to climate change through internships and other applied coursework. All three are addressed in the introductory course (see Box 5-1) and in the minor courses from which the students select (see a sample in Box 5-2).
Introductory Course Topics, University of
Montana Climate Change Studies Minor
• Introduction and Principles of the Global Climate
• Global Climate Change Models
• Current Climate Change Trends
• The Cryosphere
• Climate Change and Forest Dynamics
• Ethics and Climate Change Policy
• U.S. Climate Change Policy
• The Economics of Climate Change
• Adaptation and Geoengineering
• The Rise and Fall of Large Prehistoric Villages
• China and Climate Change
• Europe and Climate Change
• Psychology of Environmental Problems
• Communications and Climate Change
• Climate Stabilization and the Wedge Solution
• Raising Energy Efficiency
• Energy Sources: Turning to Renewables
• Carbon Offsets
• Business Solutions to Climate Change
• Climate Action and Adaptation Plans
• The Power of Example: Individual and Collective Action
Climate Change Studies Minor Course Sample Offerings
• Climate Change—Past and Future
• Weather and Climate
• Snow, Ice, and Climate
• Global Change
• Biogeochemical Cycles
• Climate Change Ethics and Policy
• Sustainable Climate Policies: China and the USA
• International Environmental Economics and Climate Change
• Communication, Consumption, and Climate
• Environmental Sociology
• Psychology of Environmental Problems
• Sustainable Business Practice
• Environmental Citizenship
• Introduction to Renewable Energy Systems
• Climate Change Internship
• Climate Change Practicum
• Climate Change Field Studies
Many of the courses offered are field-based, Phear emphasized. Students may research impacts of climate change in various locations. For example, they have the opportunity to do activities in Glacier National Park, including a survey of mountain goats and interviews with ranchers and people who live in forested areas to learn about the impacts of changes and adaptations. They also meet with doubters and decision makers. A study abroad course takes students to Vietnam to explore adaptation to rising sea level in the Mekong Delta. Every student in the minor program is required to complete an internship or take a course that includes an applied project involving campus initiatives, local businesses, government agencies, or nonprofit organizations. Recent examples have included work on sustainability programs for the university, work on biomass utilization and carbon accounting with the U.S. Forest Service, and work with the Pew Environment Group on development of a national climate policy campaign.
Phear highlighted two themes that are interwoven throughout the cli-
mate change studies minor. The program’s developers defined a climate-literate person as one who can communicate effectively about climate and climate change; for that reason communication is the topic of specific courses, but also permeates all of the courses and experiences. Students are encouraged to have conversations and use such tools as blogs, symposiums, and wiki pages to learn about and consider perspectives different from their own and to engage in and deliberate about the issues raised by climate change.
The faculty members also stress the importance of fostering and engaging networks both in the university (across disciplines) and in the community. Phear observed that she views education as “an iterative, adaptive process in which students learn from faculty, carry those conversations across disciplines, and apply them on the ground.” The 54 students currently signed up to complete the minor requirements, Phear noted, represent 23 different majors, which she identified as a key asset that will help engage students, even those who may not opt to complete the minor but will take the introductory and other courses. The students are very active on campus, she noted, and have also taken their enthusiasm to Washington, DC, and elsewhere. For her the question is not whether or not there should be climate change education, but what it should look like.
BRINGING CLIMATE CHANGE TO HIGH SCHOOL
The Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating high school students about the science behind climate change and inspiring them to do something about it, explained Lappe. Headquartered in Oakland, California, the group has educators in 10 cities and hopes to continue to grow. The group’s primary approach is to present a multimedia based, energetic, and interactive school assembly that explains greenhouse gases and their sources in language and symbolism geared toward the culture of high school students and to follow up with support for students who are motivated to take action. In the 2 years since the group was founded, Lappe noted, assemblies have been presented to approximately 900,000 students in their schools. Approximately 180,000 of those students have signed up to stay connected through ACE’s virtual network, and about 31,000 have become active members of environmental clubs associated with ACE. Another 1,100 students have participated in ACE training to support them in taking a leadership role in their communities. A small number of youth are recruited to take part in the presentations; they are referred to as Youth Representatives (Figure 5-1).
ACE was developed in response to the recognition that more traditional ways of trying to reach students have not yielded adequate results.
FIGURE 5-1 The levels of engagement of students targeted by Alliance for Climate Education assemblies.
SOURCE: Lappe (2011).
“It seems like climate scientists are always looking for that one magic piece of data that [will make people] fall to their knees, start crying, and realize that climate change is a serious issue,” Lappe noted. “But, sadly, many people who have not had a background in the sciences are not receptive to that.” The ACE presentation is based on peer-reviewed research and is overseen by a science advisory board composed of practicing scientists, Lappe explained. It also reflects sophisticated strategies for engaging students who may not be interested in the subject.
The various levels of engagement offered by the ACE program allow students to involve themselves to the degree that represents their interest and abilities. For example, the training might equip students with the tools to initiate an energy audit in their schools and sponsor a “biggest loser” energy challenge. ACE also has begun to focus on supporting teachers, assisting them in finding curriculum resources, and professional development opportunities and to find and develop professional networks.
ACE has also begun to measure the outcomes of its efforts, Lappe noted. For example, staff conducted a survey in spring 2011 of the knowl-
edge, attitudes, and behaviors of students before and after an assembly presentation, an action team site visit, and leadership training. The survey collected data on about 300 students from 7 schools and 13 classrooms; ACE hopes to expand the survey to a total of 2,500 students. Preliminary results show an increase in the percentage of students who agree that “most scientists think global warming is happening” from 48 percent before to 59 percent after an assembly presentation, as well as an increase from 54 to 74 percent who agree that “the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is higher than it has been over the past 800,000 years.” After seeing an assembly presentation, students also reported feeling more confident in their ability to help start a project to reduce their own school’s carbon footprint and in their ability to explain global warming to others.
REMARKS BY THE DISCUSSANTS
There are many programs, contests, and academic opportunities for students around the country, noted discussant Michael Town, an environmental science teacher who served as an Einstein fellow at the National Science Board. It is important, in his view, that climate change education proceeds on two tracks. There is a baseline, he explained: “We want all kids to know a certain amount about climate change,” and standards are a key to meeting that goal. At the same time, “we have kids who are very passionate about this issue and want to get advanced training.” There are 1.6 million seniors in high school and only about 100,000 of them take AP environmental science, he added, so all the programs out there have a vital role to play.
At his home school, Redmond High School in Washington state, the administration and faculty wanted “to be really ahead on environmental literacy,” he explained. Almost half of the graduating students each year have taken AP environmental science, and 87 percent, on average, have passed the exam. The school also offers an independent science research course and the Cool School Challenge, an energy-auditing program initiated in 2007. The school has reduced its carbon footprint by 250,000 pounds and is saving the district $40,000 annually as a result. The school has also developed a vocational education class that covers green business and technology issues, such as the process of obtaining Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification; green building techniques; and installation of solar, geothermal, and other alternative energy heating and cooling systems. Sixty-eight percent of the students are involved in the environmental club.
One of the challenges to maintaining these types of programs and
courses, Town noted, is that there can be significant attrition when an individual who has taken the lead in developing programs leaves the school. For example, when he left for his one-year Einstein fellowship, enrollment in the AP classes declined, and the “Design and Sustainability” course was no longer offered. One issue, he added, is a shortage of teachers with the necessary experience and credentials. “When I got my degree,” he explained, “I could not teach in a public school because environmental science is not an endorsed field like biology, chemistry, and physics.” As a result, people with environmental credentials tend to pursue opportunities in informal education. This is a “really, really critical problem,” he added: “That’s why the need for professional development to help existing teachers retool is really critical.” In his view, the standards are there to support the baseline education for all students. What is more challenging is a way to bring the opportunities for advanced study to all the students who are interested.
Participants had comments and questions. Moderator Louisa Koch asked about how learning about climate science and climate change might be related to the development of stewardship behavior. Lionberger noted the importance of passionate teachers, emphasizing that “kids care when their teachers care.” In her view the learning is what sparks students to tackle these problems. Many of the teachers involved in environmental education sponsor clubs and other activities outside the classroom, Town added, and such activities can influence the culture of the school and help engage students who are not otherwise involved. Lappe emphasized the importance of making climate change something students want to get excited about by going beyond the walls of a “geeky” environmental club. Phear cautioned that activism is very inspiring for students but that some students who get involved may not actually understand the science of climate change and the policy issues. “They can’t be very discerning about the effectiveness of their actions or why they might be turning people off,” agreed a participant.
Bill Easterling (Pennsylvania State University) brought up the challenge of graduate education and the view that students who specialize in environmental or climate issues are still at a competitive disadvantage if they don’t receive a degree in physics, chemistry, or geology. Pennsylvania State University offers dual-title degrees that are based in a discipline but emphasize climate change science. These degrees might lead to government jobs that offer the opportunity to shape policy. Thompson agreed and presented another model: at the University of Washington,
students receive degrees in a discipline, such as atmospheric science, but also can get a certificate in specific area, such as communicating about climate science.
Sophia Gershman, a high school teacher from New Jersey with a doctorate in plasma physics, asked about teacher training, pointing out that most teachers were not exposed to “real science” as part of their undergraduate education. Lionberger agreed that it is essential to work with teachers to provide them with the skills to teach science with hands-on, inquiry-based practices, adding that even teachers with science degrees often do not teach this way in their classrooms. Thompson commented that in her experiences with professional development of high school teachers, there is a lot of potential to provide the needed tools and knowledge to help teachers with the science, but she emphasized that this takes a lot of time.
Christopher Crowson (National Environmental Education Foundation) asked whether the climate minor at the University of Montana has engaged with humanities and history departments. He was particularly interested in how history has shaped society’s world view and values and how those connect with the current climate dilemma. Phear pointed out that the introductory course has a strong ethical component that focuses on the origins of social values and international comparisons. She also noted that science students who start out in this class tend to be uncomfortable when addressing these topics, whereas students who are more engaged with these topics tend to be uncomfortable with the science. It is important to address all of this material in one course, she noted, and that is a requirement for every student. Thompson added that scientists are also often uncomfortable engaging in conversations about ethics and the anthropological and historical underpinnings of people’s values and often prefer to stick to scientific facts. In addition, faculty and administration in some disciplines may feel threatened by interdisciplinary programs that tend to attract students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds.
Roundtable chair James Mahoney cautioned the education community about their use of the phrase “global warming.” This phrase does not capture many important implications of climate change for the broader public, such as the potential for more intense hurricanes and erratic winter weather or ocean acidification, he observed. Lappe agreed, pointing to research regarding communication about climate science. Studies show that Americans relate the phrase “global warming” to polar bears and melting glaciers and do not see the connection with their lives. Lappe has found that it is important to link educational materials to local issues and students’ real lives.
Carol Brewer (University of Montana) emphasized the transdisci-
plinary nature of the study of climate change and asked where biology fits into the conversation; there are a lot of consequences of global climate change that will take place in the biological realm, she noted. Thompson responded that there seems to be a strong focus in biology in the medical fields as students come out of high school. Lionberger added that although many high school biology teachers teach environmental science as part of their course, often they lack the necessary training in earth sciences. For her, this relates to the question of what can be done to prepare these teachers.
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