Climate Lessons for Teachers
Introducing Students to Climate Science using the Kids Against Climate Change Website
Not sure how to begin teaching about climate change?
Use these Essential Questions as your guide:
- How is air pollution changing Earth and all living things?
- How do scientists know what they know about climate change?
- Why is it important for people to know about climate change?
- What can kids and adults do to help slow down climate change?
- (Teachers in the USA: See NGSS Earth and Human Activity for enduring understandings.)
Lesson #1: Introduce and Engage
Objectives. By the end of this lesson, learners will understand that Earth is warming because carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere are keeping the sun’s heat near Earth. Power plants, factories, and modes of transportation (cars, planes, etc.) are the biggest producers of these gases. Earth’s warming is causing climates to change, creating unusual and severe weather in many places. Children can feel hopeful because people are beginning to take steps to slow down climate change.
Introduction. Tell the learners that lots of kids are concerned about climate change. Ask them what they’ve heard about it already. Tell them that you’re going to show them a short (< 3 mins.) video to give them more background information, and then they'll write about it.
Whole Class. Show the U.S. Environmental Protections Agency’s video, Climate Change Basics video (below). Let the learners know they’ll be writing about the scientific information in the video at the end.
Group Work. Divide students into small groups. Give each group a piece of large chart paper and some markers. Have them divide it into two columns, labeling one column, KNOW, and the other column WONDER. Ask the groups to list the facts they remember from the video in the first column, and what else they wonder about climate change in the second column. You may want to re-play the video part way through class to see if the learners can catch more ideas to write down.
Whole Class. Ask each group to share three important facts they learned with the entire class. Once a fact has been shared, it should not be repeated by another group, so everyone needs to listen carefully. As groups are sharing, individuals should feel free to continue to add to the WONDER column as they think of more ideas. Display the students’ charts in the classroom to refer to during the following lessons.
Conclusion. Summarize the class by emphasizing that the science is clear. Planet Earth is warming up. The warming is caused by people putting carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere. The gases are holding the sun’s heat near Earth. Power plants (that make electricity), factories (that make products), and various modes of transportation (cars, airplanes, etc.), put the most carbon dioxide into the air. This is causing climates to change, which is affecting the lifestyle of many people as they try to deal with severe drought in some areas, massive flooding in other areas, and wild dangerous weather. More and more people are concerned about it, so it’s important that we all know what’s causing it, what the effects are, and what we can do about it. Let the kids know that they’ll have the chance to discuss this important topic with other kids on the Kids Against Climate Change website.
Lesson #2: Motivate and Explore
Objectives. By the end of this lesson, learners will understand the causes and effects of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They’ll see that Earth’s systems (air, water, land, and living things) are all linked – a change in one is going to have an impact on the others. They’ll understand how scientists know that climate change is caused by people putting carbon dioxide in the air. They’ll also have a reason to be hopeful about their future.
Introduction. Introduce your learners to the Kids Against Climate Change Home Page and give them a quick look at the other website pages. Explain that this interactive website allows them to discuss climate change with other kids. (If they’re anything like my students, they LOVE to talk!) The site provides an opportunity to be both consumers and producers of knowledge. Remind them of the Climate Change Basics video. Why might they want to talk with other kids about climate change? Why would it be a good idea to get more background information before talking to others about climate change?
Whole Class. Introduce them to Information for Kids section of the Start Learning page. (Note that there’s also a section for advanced research for older students.) Here they’ll gather additional information about climate change to add to their background knowledge. Give your learners focus questions to research to help them understand the causes and effects of climate change. Depending on the background knowledge of your learners, you may want to use the Essential Questions above. Alternatively, you might want to begin with smaller, more specific, questions to guide their research, such as, What is carbon dioxide? Where does it come from? How does it get into the air? Why is that a problem? Another option is to have them complete this Climate Change Basics Worksheet to get started learning about climate change. (All answers for the worksheet can be found by the children on the EPA website, the first link under Information for Kids on the Start Learning page.)
Individual/Pair/Group Work. Children take notes and draw sketches in their science notebook, or complete the worksheet, as they gather important information about climate change. Remind learners that they’ll be using this information in their discussions with other kids, so it’s important that they have accurate information, and that they take accurate notes. Ask a volunteer from each group to add new information to yesterday’s climate change charts.
Conclusion. Summarize the class by emphasizing that scientists have evidence that the rapidly warming Earth is caused by people. The carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that people are putting into the air are trapping Earth’s heat close to the earth. This is causing the planet’s air, water, and land to warm up, causing climates around the world to change. Weather is what we experience on a daily basis, but climate is the average weather over decades. Earth is beginning to experience the effects of climate change: abnormal weather patterns, glaciers melting, sea level rising, changes inside the ocean, etc.
The good news is that people are beginning to take steps to slow down climate change. Assure your learners that they’ll be joining the discussion on Kids Against Climate Change during the next class.
Lesson #3: Explore & Empower
Objectives. By the end of this lesson, learners will understand that many children are concerned about climate change, so they’re learning as much as they can about it. Knowledge is power. Others want to hear what your learners have to say. By joining the discussion, learners are encouraging societal change. They’ll feel hopeful about their future.
Introduction. Today, learners join the discussion about climate change with other kids. Introduce learners to What Do Kids Know? page.
Whole Class. Point out that kids have submitted the pictures and videos for the Kids Against Climate Change website, and they can as well, once they’ve joined the discussion. Review the directions on the page for posting comments and replies. Note that all comments are moderated, to ensure that only appropriate comments are on the site, so they won’t appear on the site until I’ve given them the OK.
Individual/Pair/Group Work. Learners review their climate change notes/answers on worksheet, and add to them as needed. They then read other kids’ comments on the What Do Kids Know? page. They add to the discussion by posting a comment at the bottom of the page, and adding additional information or positive comments to other kids’ comments.
Conclusion. Summarize by having partners or small groups discuss what they posted on the site. During whole class discussion, ask learners what new information they learned from other children. Are there any comments they found confusing, or that they wondered about? Ask your learners what they think the next step should be (taking steps to slow down climate change and talking to other kids about it).
Lesson #4: Explore and Empower
Objectives. By the end of this lesson, learners will know several ways they can help slow down climate change. They’ll understand how actions such as recycling and turning off lights helps reduce air pollution, and that reducing air pollution slows down climate change. They’ll feel empowered by the idea that there are steps they can take, and by sharing their ideas with other children. They’ll commit to taking at least one new step to slow down climate change. Learners will feel optimistic about their future.
Introduction. Introduce learners to the What Can Kids Do? page, highlighting the variety of ways kids are working to help slow down climate change.
Individual/Pair Work. Learners use the What Can Kids Do? section of the Start Learning page to research ways kids can help slow down climate change. In their science notebooks, or on chart paper, have children write a list of actions kids can take, and how each action reduces air pollution to slow down climate change.
Pair/Group Work. With a partner, or in a small group, have each learner share at least one specific step s/he can take today to reduce air pollution (that s/he’s not already doing).
Individual/Pair Work. Half way through the class time, have learners list their favorite ideas/actions their family already takes/actions their school already takes/their own commitment, on the What Can Kids Do? page, explaining how each action helps reduce air pollution. They can then reply to other kids’ ideas.
Whole Class. Extend learner thinking by asking them why they should want to encourage other children to take steps to slow down climate change. How do the actions of people in other countries (e.g., creating lots of air pollution) affect the quality of life of all children around the world?
Conclusion. Summarize by asking a few volunteers what they posted on the website. Ask the class, as a whole, if they think they’ll be able to follow through on their commitment to take action themselves, because it’s going to take more than just talk to slow down climate change.
Lesson #5: Explore and Extend
Objectives. By the end of this lesson, learners will know several ways adults can help slow down climate change. Kids are an important part in creating societal change by taking action themselves, but they also need the help of adults who have more power than kids. In addition to their own actions, they can keep talking to adults, helping them to understand that scientists have evidence of human-caused climate change, and that we all need to work together to slow down climate change. Learners will feel optimistic about their future.
Introduction. Introduce learners to the What Should Adults Do? page. Remind children that adults have more power than children, so kids need adult help to slow down climate change.
Individual/Pair Work. Learners use the What Should Adults Do? section of the Start Learning page to research ways adults can help slow down climate change. In their science notebooks, or on chart paper, have children write a list of actions adults can take, and how each action reduces air pollution to slow down climate change.
Pair/Group Work. Learners explain in their own words how different adult actions can make a difference. (For example, when a company builds a wind farm the turbines generate electricity when their blades are pushed by the wind. Creating energy this way is not creating air pollution, unlike old-fashioned power plants that have to burn air-polluting coal to create energy.)
Individual/Pair Work. Half way through class time, have learners use their notes to list their favorite ideas on the What Should Adults Do? page. Encourage them to explain online how the actions help, so other kids will understand the cause and effect. They can then reply to other kids’ ideas.
Whole Class. Extend learner thinking by asking them how they could explain climate change to an adult who doesn’t “believe” Earth’s climate is changing (which really means s/he doesn’t understand the science).
Conclusion. Summarize the class by emphasizing that climate change is a big problem, but kids AND adults are beginning to take steps to slow it down. Ask what new technology they think will have the largest effect. If we all take responsibility for taking care of Planet Earth we can have a significant impact. Encourage your learners to keep talking about it to other kids and adults.
Lesson #6: Create and Empower
Objectives. By the end of this lesson, learners will have created a product to be shared with other children for the Kids Against Climate Change website that teaches others about one aspect of climate change, or gives an idea for slowing down climate change. Learners feel empowered by their ability to communicate and take action to make a difference.
Introduction. Introduce learners to the Share page. Lead a class discussion as to why it’s important to communicate about climate change with other kids. How can we get kids around the world talking about, and taking action on, climate change? Challenge learners to create a way of communicating their concern about climate change, or their ideas for taking action to slow down climate change.
Individual/Pair/Group Work. Working individually, in pairs, or in small groups, learners can share their own unique perspective on climate change. What do they think is most important to communicate to other kids? They can submit a hand-drawn picture, a poem, an online picture, a photo, a video, a podcast, a song, an avatar, etc. Remind them to sign it with their first name and the name of their country.
Directions for sending the products to me to post on the site are on the Share page.
Conclusion. Summarize the class by reminding your learners that if we all work together to slow down climate change, by talking about it, AND by taking action (by reducing our electricity use, by recycling, etc.), we can make a significant difference.
Feeling a little unsure of your own background knowledge about climate change?
Not to worry. Plunge in anyway!
There’s good background information for the teacher on the For Older Students and Teachers section of the Start Learning page. If you get stuck at any time, feel free to email me at the address below. Whether you need a site for student research on a particular climate topic, want additional lessons, or you need a suggestion for answering a student’s question, I’m available to help. Working together, teachers can have a profound societal impact by educating children about climate change.
Instructor, University of San Diego
Climate Change Education Consultant
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