Getting Kids Excited to Learn about Climate Change: Tips & Tricks

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Climate change is a dynamic and complex topic that presents a challenge for teachers looking to maintain student engagement. But with proper planning and preparation, you can easily devise lesson plans that are both exciting and informative.

Teaching Students About Climate Change

Despite its pressing nature, many science teachers struggle when attempting to cover climate change. Constantly changing data, a lack of formal training, and a whole host of other factors make it difficult for instructors to design effective lesson plans.

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If you're getting ready to begin a climate change unit in your classroom and find yourself in need of some guidance, you may be wondering how you can come up with a curriculum that properly covers the topic while keeping your students interested. Though it may be a slightly novel concept, climate change, or variations in average or usual weather in a local or regional area, is not an impossible subject to teach. With adequate preparation, your lesson plans can be exciting and engaging.

The following tips and suggestions include some helpful advice on how to cover climate change with students of all ages.

Incorporate Real-Time Data

Though the constant updates and modifications to our knowledge of climate change may seem frustrating, the situation can serve as a valuable learning tool if handled properly. If your students have trouble relating to historical events that happened in past centuries and mathematical equations that seem to have little bearing on the real world, the immediacy of climate change makes for a compelling lesson. The following activities integrate current information in a way that is certain to improve student engagement.

Weather in the News

Identify a current and significant weather event - such as a hurricane or snowstorm - and compile some news stories about it from different media outlets. Make copies of the stories and distribute them to your students. After reading them, ask students to compare how the different outlets portray the same story but from multiple perspectives. For example, have them explain how a local outlet covers a story compared to a national outlet, or how scientific publications cover a story compared to more social publications.

Climate Data Exploration

This activity involves comparing current temperatures with overall weather patterns. For a period of time (more than a few days but less than two weeks), have students gather weather information, such as temperature and precipitation, on a daily basis. After the collection period has ended, ask students to compare their data with the annual average or records from past years. Not only will this activity show students how weather has (or has not) changed, but also teach them valuable observation skills.

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Focus on Local Impacts

Explaining the concept of a global shift, especially to younger students, presents a formidable challenge to even the most experienced teacher. One potential workaround involves a more regional focus on weather phenomena that not only will provide students with a foundational understanding of the situation, but also help them recognize the immediate impact of climate change.

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The Art of Clouds

An important part of any weather-based or climate-centered lesson involves cloud formations and types. After teaching your students about cloud types, take them outside (or have them gather by the window) and ask them to identify the various types of clouds in the sky, such as cirrus, cumulus, or stratus.

If it's a particularly sunny day and the sky is clear, you can improvise by showing students paintings and photographs and asking them to identify the types of clouds shown in the works. You can also have students create their own drawings that include several different types of clouds.

Catching Snowflakes

For your winter lessons, this simple activity is an easy way to get your students involved in exploring seasonal weather. Have your students collect snowflakes and then closely analyze them, looking for two flakes that are exactly alike. Not only will your students have fun catching the snowflakes and trying to find a match, but also have the opportunity to explore introductory concepts about structure and form. If your area doesn't get much snow, you and/or your students can make some snowflakes out of paper.

Consult the Experts

One of the major obstacles to proper climate change education is a lack of formal training for the nation's science teachers. Because research on the subject is so recent, most teachers did not cover it during their training and are thus unprepared to design adequate lesson plans.

NASA

If you find yourself in such a situation, you can take comfort in the knowledge that there are plenty of quality materials available completely free of charge. As part of their initiative to improve global awareness of the climate change crisis, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has compiled an impressive list of classroom activities and modules related to the topic. These activities are designed by respected scientific organizations, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Earth System Science Education Alliance (ESSEA), and NASA itself. This list contains a wide range of activities (such as labs, projects, and more) that can easily be modified for students of all ages.

Study.com

Lesson plans and activities are also available from Study.com and cover important topics like weather and climate. If you feel like your knowledge of climate change is lacking, or if you simply need some fresh ideas, these resources offer a crucial source of inspiration.

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Teaching your students about climate change is a stiff challenge, but proper planning and engaging activities will go a long way in keeping them involved. By using the above strategies, you can give your lesson plans an entertaining and informative boost and ensure that your students have a productive and enjoyable experience.

By Bill Sands
November 2017
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