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Teaching climate change in ELA, a teacher with students in the library.

Teaching Climate Change in ELA

In this article we learn about teaching climate change in ELA. Jennifer Smith teaches 7th and 8th grade language arts for Illinois Virtual Schools and Academy. She also teaches science methods to elementary education majors as an adjunct professor at a university in Illinois. Below she tells us about why she decided to do our Teaching Climate Change Essentials professional development, what she learned and what she took into her classrooms.

Jennifer Smith

Learning about the problems caused by climate change can be overwhelming but this course did a good job of incorporating explanations of the science of climate change as well as the actions that can be taken to mitigate the problems created by climate change.

Jennifer Smith

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

Climate change is a topic that I believe is important to incorporate into education, but none of the courses I took to become a teacher emphasized climate change. I wanted to take this course to build my own background knowledge on the topic and find ways to help my students learn about it as well. I wanted to explore ideas for teaching about climate change in ELA and elementary science classes.

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

Prior to taking the course, I was aware of some of the major contributors to climate change and had taken a couple of climate science courses but did not feel fully confident in teaching the topic. After taking the Teaching Climate Change Essentials course I feel more confident in teaching about climate change.

What did you take away from the course that has influenced how you will teach about climate change?

One of my main takeaways is that it is important to teach about climate change in a way that is productive and empowers students and families to take action. Learning about the problems caused by climate change can be overwhelming but this course did a good job of incorporating explanations of the science of climate change as well as the actions that can be taken to mitigate the problems created by climate change.

Now that you’ve done the course, where will you incorporate teaching about climate change in ELA and in your curriculum?

One of the powerful aspects of the course was that it helped me and other participants understand that information about climate change can be included in all content areas. In my language arts courses I can include articles and graphs about climate change and its impacts. I also teach a science methods course for elementary education majors and have been able to share some of the resources and information I learned from the course in discussions with my students.

Were you able to connect teaching about climate change to subject and grade level standards?

Teaching about climate change connects with the Next Generation Science Standards such as the middle school physical science standard about creating synthetic materials as well as various earth science standards across grade levels. Additionally, teaching about climate change connects with English language arts standards as students read and review the evidence and arguments about climate change in non-fiction texts.

What entry points did you identify for teaching climate change into your classroom?

Discussing current events is a way that teachers across grade levels and content areas can incorporate the teaching of climate change into their classrooms. By utilizing current events, teachers can leverage student interest and engagement in the topic. Additionally, at the grade school and middle school levels, climate change instruction can be linked to literacy through the close reading and analysis of grade-level appropriate texts about climate change.

What are your next steps in teaching about climate change?

I have already used the knowledge and resources I gained from the course to engage in dialogue and utilized teachable moments as students had questions / concerns / misconceptions about climate change. I have not yet had the opportunity to generate new lessons or units to incorporate climate change. That will come next.

How did your students engage and respond when you discussed climate change in class?

Students appreciate having the opportunity to ask questions about climate change and share their ideas during class. They were very receptive to the information I shared in response to their questions, which primarily consisted of questions about the causes of climate change and actions that can be taken to limit climate change and the problems it causes. It’s clear students have a desire to take action and make a difference when it comes to climate change.

What would you say to other teachers who are thinking about or wanting to teach climate but feel they don’t know where to start?

I recommend that teachers begin by signing up to take the Teaching Climate Change Essentials course. It helps to build a teacher’s foundation in climate science. Once teachers feel more comfortable with the topic, it will be easier to see how climate education connects to their subject area and grade level.

Anything else you’d like to share with other teachers?

I enjoyed taking the course and it was a very meaningful education opportunity. I would like to take the extreme weather course in the future because it is a topic that my students are interested in and have several questions about.

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