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Teacher an students look at books on a desk during climate change teaching class

Climate change teaching with new lessons

Jessica Clingman is a fifth grade science teacher in Princeton, New Jersey who expanded her classroom curriculum to include climate change teaching. After reading the report published by the International Panel on Climate Change in August 2021 and with the encouragement of the sustainability coordinator at her school she decided to participate in our climate change education online professional learning: Teaching Climate Change Essentials.

Below we talk with Jessica about how the course impacted her climate change teaching and learning. You’ll read about how she introduced climate change topics into her existing curriculum, how her students responded and what they are learning.

What motivated you to take a course focused on teaching about climate change?

After reading the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in August 2021, I felt that I needed to learn more about climate change and add it to the curriculum for my students. The sustainability coordinator at my school had been encouraging me to do so and she was the one who forwarded the information to me about this course.

How much did you know about climate change or climate science before taking the course?

I knew a lot about sustainability and waste, but not so much about climate change. I understood that the earth was warming and humans were responsible for that warming. I was worried about it, but I did not think about it in my day to day. I was more focused on eliminating plastic from my life.

How did you augment your curriculum based on what you learned during the course?

My second semester classes already focused on sustainability – where it comes from and where it goes to – so climate change was an easy topic to fit in. The work with students before had been more about waste and plastic pollution. After the course, I focused on teaching my students (5th graders) about the basics of climate change – the difference between climate and weather, what is a greenhouse gas and what is the greenhouse effect. I have created and taught two new lessons; weather vs. climate and greenhouse gasses. Our next lesson will focus on what are the main causes of climate change and the difference between mitigation strategies and adaptation strategies.

Finally, I am in the process of creating lessons that will include information about declaring a climate emergency and how to take action. I plan on working with my students to teach them about how to take action – how they can write to their representatives, how to spread the word about climate change.

What has been the impact on your students? How did they engage and respond?

My students are very interested and some are angry that they don’t see more being done about climate change. I tell them all the time that by talking about it with their family and friends they are already taking action to change things. They now understand climate and weather and can explain it to others. They also now understand the greenhouse effect and what greenhouse gasses do. They are better prepared and ready to spread the word!

What did you personally take away from the course and would you like to say to other teachers?

The course made me realize that so many people do not understand the science behind climate change and this is one of the reasons why they are unsure about what to do. It is so big that many people cannot comprehend it or think it is still years and years away.I would say that as teachers we have a responsibility to teach about climate change. Students have climate anxiety and seeing teachers and other responsible adults in their lives taking action helps ease that anxiety. I do not think I could look my students in the eye in ten years if I didn’t teach it and take action. How could I say to them – I knew, and I did nothing.

Not only did this course help my teaching, but it has added a greater sense of purpose to my work as a teacher. This is a critical time to be teaching and taking action on this topic. It’s a historic moment to be alive and to be advocating for change both in the classroom and the world.

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Presidio Graduate School’s online courses give K-12 educators all they need to successfully incorporate climate literacy into their classroom.

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I would say that as teachers we have a responsibility to teach about climate change. Students have climate anxiety and seeing teachers and other responsible adults in their lives taking action helps ease that anxiety. I do not think I could look my students in the eye in ten years if I didn’t teach it and take action. How could I say to them – I knew, and I did nothing.

Jessica Clingman