In an era defined by pressing environmental challenges, the importance of climate education in schools has become increasingly evident. Recognizing the significance of equipping students with the knowledge and skills to navigate climate issues, more states and districts are adopting new science standards that explicitly incorporate climate science. These updated standards are geared to empower students to understand the complexities of climate change, its impacts, and the actions necessary to address this global crisis.
In this article, we delve into effective strategies that schools can employ to make climate education a priority. From integrating climate topics across the curriculum to providing engaging learning experiences and fostering community partnerships, we explore practical approaches that prepare students to become informed advocates for a sustainable future.
Schools can begin to integrate climate education into various subjects across the curriculum. This approach allows students to understand the interdisciplinary nature of climate change, its impacts, and potential solutions. With the right resources, teachers can incorporate climate-related topics into science, social studies, geography, economics, and even literature and the arts.
Earlier this year, Connecticut became one of the first states in the U.S. to mandate climate change studies across public schools as a part of its science curriculum.
Currently, climate change studies are included in the curriculums of nearly 90% of public schools in Connecticut. However, to ensure the protection of climate education from budget cuts and political opposition, there is a proposal to mandate its inclusion from grades five to 12 as part of state law. In line with this, Connecticut has already adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a comprehensive set of K–12 science content standards that include specific guidelines for climate change studies. These standards will be relied upon by more educators as the requirement becomes effective starting next year. Currently, only 20 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the NGSS.
Schools can provide professional development opportunities for teachers to enhance their understanding of climate science and related topics. This training can equip educators with the necessary tools and resources to effectively teach climate education in their classrooms.
According to a nationally representative survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center in December, over three-quarters of teachers have never received any professional training or education on climate change or how to teach it.
San Francisco State University aims to address this gap by introducing a Climate Justice Education Certificate program for pre-K–12 teaching. This initiative is part of a broader effort to confront the climate crisis through an equity-focused approach. The program consists of four courses designed to equip both current and future teachers with a comprehensive understanding of climate science and the ability to teach climate justice topics that are relevant to their communities. The first cohort of teachers is scheduled to begin the program in the summer of 2024.
Environmental Clubs and Activities:
Schools can establish or support environmental clubs and activities, such as nature conservation projects, recycling initiatives, or community gardens. These activities can engage students in hands-on learning experiences and foster a sense of environmental stewardship.
Environmental clubs serve multiple purposes, offering students the chance to understand and engage with local, state, and national environmental issues. These clubs provide opportunities for students to work on diverse projects, such as implementing school recycling programs, marking storm drains to prevent illegal dumping, launching anti-idling campaigns to enhance air quality on campus, and more. Through active participation in these meaningful activities, students not only acquire valuable skills but also develop a sense of personal responsibility that influences their behavior and attitudes, while also learning to lead by example.
Below are a few mission statements from environmental clubs across the country, illustrating their objectives:
- Provide students with the opportunity to learn more about their surroundings and engage in service projects both within the school and the community.
- Promote environmental awareness and foster the development of social and life skills.
- Increase student awareness of environmental issues and empower them to create meaningful change.
- Offer students direct involvement in a range of environmentally-focused projects.
- Raise awareness about environmental issues and emphasize the responsibility and potential for each individual to make a difference.
Guest Speakers and Field Trips:
Inviting experts in the field of climate science, environmental activists, or representatives from local environmental organizations as guest speakers can provide valuable insights and real-world perspectives to students. Additionally, organizing field trips to natural parks, renewable energy facilities, or sustainable businesses can give students a practical understanding of climate-related issues.
NOAA has offices across all 50 states, with professional communicators and facilities that can bring guest speakers into schools. These speakers include climate scientists who can provide insights into climate change science, environmental activists who can share their experiences and inspire students to get involved, renewable energy experts who can discuss the importance of sustainable energy solutions, and policy experts who can address climate change policies and the role of government and organizations. These presentations will give students a firsthand understanding of emerging careers focused on protecting the Earth and encourage their involvement in environmental activism and sustainable practices.
In person and virtual field trips offer valuable learning experiences for students. They can visit renewable energy facilities such as solar power plants, wind farms, or hydroelectric power stations to understand the positive impact of renewable energy on greenhouse gas reduction. Exploring environmental conservation areas such as national parks, nature reserves, or ecological restoration projects helps highlight the significance of biodiversity conservation and ecosystem protection in mitigating climate change. Trips to sustainable agricultural sites such as organic farms, permaculture projects, or urban agriculture initiatives provide insights into sustainable farming practices, the agricultural sector’s impact on climate change, and the role of regenerative farming in carbon emission reduction. Visits to recycling and waste management centers contribute to educating students about waste reduction, recycling, and proper waste disposal as crucial steps in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change.
The goal of the program is that teachers who earn the certificate will return to their respective schools and share their newfound knowledge and expertise with their colleagues, fostering a wider impact on climate education.
Engaging Learning Materials and Projects:
Schools can incorporate engaging and interactive learning materials, such as documentaries, videos, simulations, and online platforms, to make climate education more accessible and interesting for students. These resources can help students visualize and comprehend complex concepts associated with climate change. Encouraging students to undertake projects or research related to climate change can enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, and research skills. This also empowers them to explore potential solutions and contribute to the ongoing discourse on climate action.
In 2020, New Jersey became the pioneering state to adopt new educational standards, mandating the integration of climate change as a theme across all subjects in schools. Following a two-year process, schools commenced the implementation of this change last autumn. To support teachers in this endeavor, the state introduced the New Jersey Climate Change Initiative, an online hub that offers a wealth of lesson ideas for educators.
To get inspiration for materials and projects that you can implement, take a look at these climate change resources for teachers and students.
Community Partnerships & Projects:
Schools can collaborate with local communities, environmental organizations, and universities to create partnerships that support climate education initiatives. This collaboration can provide additional resources, expertise, and opportunities for students to engage in meaningful climate-related activities.
Community Gardens: Community gardens play a vital role in urban areas by fostering skills and values often overlooked in developed environments. They promote sustainability, encourage land stewardship, cultivate shared spaces, and foster a sense of community towards a common goal. These gardens come in various forms, ranging from rented plots for locals to grow their own produce to nonprofit initiatives focused on providing food for those in need.
Renewable Energy Projects: Communities throughout the country can actively contribute to addressing climate change by embracing renewable energy sources such as solar, onshore and offshore wind, geothermal, and wave and tidal energy projects. Not only does this transition to renewable energy aid in combating climate issues, but it also generates well-paying union jobs for the workforce.
By working to make climate education a priority in schools, we can foster a generation of environmentally literate individuals who are equipped to tackle the challenges of climate change and work towards a more sustainable future.
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