Sunday, January 22, 2017

Climate Change Communication Resources for Teachers

Yesterday I was marching in the Women's March Oakland with a friend who teaches 4th grade in a local public school, and found out she was in the middle of starting a unit on climate change. My ears pricked up and I started rattling off resources she might want to check out while she scrambled for her smart phone to jot things down in the drizzle. It occurred to me just now that it might be more convenient if I just put up a blog post with my favorite climate change teaching resources available for free online.

"What is Climate Change" in under 6 minutes

First, the Consensus of Evidence summary description of climate change from the free online course Denial101x Week 1 is the best, most concise presentation I've found on the subject.

Concepts you might want to cover/review before watching this video with kids:
  • Climate - as something that covers more than just weather, not measured in hours/days but decades/centuries
  • Evidence - fancy word for "facts"
  • Atmosphere - that it has a structure above the earth's surface, with upper and lower layers
  • Infrared radiation - fancy words for "heat"
  • Satellites - what are they, what do they do
  • Internal variability - how things change within the usual cycle
  • Why we use the word greenhouse to describe climate changing gases
  • Climate models show us the results of math that predicts the future, they don't describe past observations, but their math is based on past observations (you might want to mention the phrase oft-repeated by climate modelers: "All models are wrong but some are useful")
For audiences not accustomed to hearing an Australian accent you might want to turn on the closed captions (click on the "CC" glyph at the bottom of the video window).

See all the excellent "Denial101x" resources listed in order in a helpful post by a blogger who advocates for climate science. Otherwise, you have to enroll and click through the module to find what you're looking for.

Denial101x is a free online course (a MOOC- "massive open online course") designed to help people analyze and combat climate change denialism by John Cook, the Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, and Bärbel Winkler of Skeptical Science.

Enter the Denial101x MOOC module for the full experience.

Helpful Graphics

XKCD's Timeline of Earth's Average Temperature. Comic #1732 (September 12, 2016), by Randall Munroe. The data used is cited as being from 2012 and 2013. If you love this graphic you might enjoy the "Explain XKCD" wiki entry about it.

The Temperature Spiral by University of Reading climate scientist Ed Hawkins, first shared via Twitter on May 9, 2016, with the description "Spiralling global temperatures from 1850-2016 (full animation)," and since updated. It takes about 20 seconds to run. You might want to pause it and point out the last big swerving loop that represents 2016's record heat.

Or you can just leave it on your screen in an infinite loop. It's very relaxing to watch if you don't think about its ominous implications. Click here for another relaxing-if-you-don't-think-about-it spiral, this one going inward, describing Arctic sea ice loss.

Climate change impacts summarized in 19 haiku: some beautiful watercolors and haiku giving the main take-aways of the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Summary for Policymakers, by NOAA researcher Gregory C. Johnson. You can poke around the full set of IPCC "Fifth Assessment" reports released in 2013-2014 here. The 32-page Summary for Policymakers can be read here.

Someone made a nice 2:28 Youtube video of the haiku.

After reviewing the main impacts with your kids, you might want to circle back to the last line in the haiku in panel #15:

Repositories of Excellent Materials 

Climate Access - Tips and Tools - Climate Access is a North American climate change communications NGO that has lots of useful resources on its site (although the search feature doesn't seem to be functioning-- you'll have to use Google site search).

- Poking around their site I found a link to a 52-min. video of a webinar on how to engage youth on climate change by the Climate Advocacy Lab, and the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). The webinar is more geared toward people planning education campaigns than teachers facing down a couple dozen bored teenagers in a classroom, but it does provide interesting public survey data on how teens are accessing information. They present an analysis of ACE's Get Loud Challenge, now called Power Forward.

The Alliance for Climate Education has a 45 min. presentation for high school students featuring the video "Our Climate Our Future" - available for cheap ($5 for 2 days' access) here. You can see the first 8:30 of the full presentation as it was given at the White House in 2015 here.

The Climate Literacy and Awareness Network (CLEAN) has 650+ middle and high school lesson plans free online.

Climate Central - simply the best source for well-written/presented pieces on current climate science. Its content is not necessarily for the younger set, but is generally designed to be accessible.

Two Climate Central articles you might check out before teaching a curriculum on climate change:

- "Should We Tell the Whole Truth About Climate Change?" - an opinion piece by one of their senior science writers

- "Think You’re a Climate Whiz? Take the Quiz" - a 12-part multiple choice quiz. Note that it was written in 2014, so the question "What was the warmest year on record for the globe?" might need a 2016 correction. NASA and NOAA agree 2016 was the warmest year on record globally (NASA).


Game of Floods - See if this award-winning game taking on the challenge of planning for sea level rise might work for your kids. You could probably get tips for how to adapt it for different age groups from one of the creators, the county's Planning Manager Jack Liebster, at +1 (415) 473-4331 or jliebster -at-

- UPDATE - I just ran into Jack at a conference and he said they have used Game of Floods in a classroom context as part of the "Youth Exploring Sea Level Rise Science" (YESS) project, a SF Bay Area curriculum.

The Grid - if you've got an Amazon gift card to burn, this is a fabulous board game that lets the players make their own conclusions about the relative benefits of different energy sources.

The U.S. EPA's game "Generate" - Free! Download it while you still can! It was launched in May 2016 as a teaching tool for classrooms- it looks like a more instructional version of The Grid.

Things You Can Do 

The BioBlitz - an event idea created by National Geographic where you try to document as many species as possible in a given place within a short period of time. The U.S. NPS has a page dedicated to BioBlitzes in the National Parks - including a map where you can click to see what parks near you are involved. The NPS works with iNaturalist, which puts together apps to help document nature. Check out the totals from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's April 1, 2016, BioBlitz on iNaturalist here. If we don't measure biodiversity we can't measure how it shifts with climate change.

The National Phenology Network's "Nature's Notebook" program - where you sign up to be an "observer" and report on changes in plants and animals around you. Check out their Nature's Notebook curriculum and activities page. The data collected here is actually used by scientists! The NPN has documented earlier springtime leafing-out and blooming dates for keystone plant species, shifts linked to climate change. The more we know about these shifts, the better we can prepare.

Rain gardens - the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), based in Marin County, did a great project with the Marin Municipal Water District called "10,000 Rain Gardens" - here's their 2010 report on the project. Although the project is long-finished, MMWD staff are continuing to support community rain gardens - see their resources here. Slowing, spreading, and sinking rainwater helps protect wildlife habitats, reduces hazardous flooding, and recharges groundwater, all helpful under conditions of climate change. From the Rain Garden Network - 10 steps to creating your own rain garden.

Plant native plants to help endangered butterflies - Here in California the California Native Plant Society provides resources for schools that want to plant native plants to support our endangered butterflies and other pollinators. Changes in climate are threatening already endangered species and moving other otherwise healthy wildlife populations toward endangerment. Every little bit of native plant gardening helps maintain sources of food and habitat for our most vulnerable creatures.

ACE's Power Forward - a youth-oriented campaign for clean energy. It recruits 13-24 year-olds to engage in their interactive digital platform through which "participants are able to seamlessly share national climate content on social media and get updates about opportunities to attend local actions in person."

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