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Helping Students Understand How to Take Action on Climate Change

One of the essential principles of teaching climate change to students is to get across the message that it has consequences for human lives. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, students need to understand that the effects of climate change can already be seen and more consequences are expected.

Teaching about climate change can be a challenge because if the facts are too alarming, it can lead to a denial of the warnings. It helps to bring the lesson as close to home as possible and to present positive ways to take action.

Action projects and hands-on experiments

Teachers that want to help students understand there’s a problem also have to help them feel as though they have the power to do something about it.

Action projects engage students and help them to solve problems in their schools and their communities. For example, middle schoolers in Hawaii are surveying residents about the rise in sea levels. Students are conducting hands-on experiments, such as those developed by the California-based Mobile Climate Science Labs, to learn about the greenhouse effect.

Learning and activities must complement each other

If students are taught principles of recycling but schools make no recycling efforts, it is unlikely that the lessons will have much effect. However, when students actually begin to reuse paper or take part in recycling efforts, it may change their behavior at school and at home.

Action projects don’t have to be complicated

Action projects can include fairly simple individual behaviors as well as more comprehensive events.

At some schools, students have committed to using bikes instead of cars to help prevent air pollution as cars account for a significant proportion of global carbon dioxide emissions. The cars of the future could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help manage global climate change. Until this happens, car recycling is one way to reduce the necessity to keep producing more steel for cars.

One project that could be useful would be to dump all the trash from the school on the lawn. Get all the students to wear protective gloves and go through the trash to pick out what can be recycled. Take the recycling, weigh it and use the information from this activity to develop an ongoing recycling and composting program.

A tree planting activity is another good project. Collaborate with local landscaping companies and see if they will donate trees and help to plant them. Choose an area in the community where habitats have been compromised or plant them in the schoolyard for beauty and shade.

Incorporating climate change into lessons

For younger children, teaching climate change can be a way to teach them about earth’s systems. They can watch videos, draw pictures, visit websites and read books.

Tim Swinehart, a social studies teacher, co-edited a book of social studies lessons on climate change called A People’s Curriculum for the Earth. The book contains graphics, role plays, poems and articles for teachers to use.

Use online resources

The website Kids Against Climate Change is created by kids for kids. It teaches kids about climate change but the kids also present their ideas on what to do about it, such as recycling used paper and turning off lights when not in use. The site offers a list of resources for teachers, hosts artwork and serves as a forum for discussing climate change for students.

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