By Mike Zis, OER Project Guest Contributor
Most teachers want to address climate change. Our supplemental climate unit, developed specifically for civics and social studies classrooms, can help.
If, like me, you went to school in the 1980s, you may remember excitedly planning for Model United Nations conferences where the big topic was nuclear disarmament. In the 2000s, you might have participated in mock congresses where the hole in the ozone layer was the hot topic. And if, again, you’re like me, you may recall being inspired by the teachers who helped you care about and prepare for these events.
As teachers, we want to prepare our students for the challenges they’ll face and give them the tools to meet them. One of the most urgent of these challenges is climate change. Students may already be learning about the physical and biological processes behind these changes in their science classes: increased greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels lead to rising global temperatures, which in turn result in climate change. And these science classes, personal experience, and their own news feeds tell them about the frightening consequences that await if nothing is done: increasingly deadly wildfires, heat waves, storms, and flooding.
But where in the curriculum can our students learn about what they can do to mitigate climate change’s worst impacts? And how can they learn to not feel powerless in the face of it?
Social studies! It’s here that we can help students make informed decisions about the world they live in and acquire the tools to make a difference in their communities.
Until now, there haven’t been a lot of thoughtful lesson plans or curricula out there that address climate change through a social studies lens. But now there are. The OER Project has developed the Climate Project, an extension climate course for high-school social-studies teachers and students. This supplemental unit is perfect for inclusion in a civics course. It’s also a great way for AP® World, AP® Gov, and AP® Geo teachers to wrap up their courses with a project-based or civic-action unit.
The Climate Project home page.
The materials that make up the Climate Project extension course are designed to be used by teachers without science backgrounds. Firmly focused on students, it’ll inspire and prepare them to tackle the problem of climate change. It’s also not going to be a tough sell for administrators. The course’s multidisciplinary approach is aligned with existing social studies curricula and standards. Across the three-part extension course, students will integrate, synthesize, and apply reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. They’ll cap their work off by developing arguments for a climate action project that they’ll deliver in a memorable, final climate summit.
And all of this is entirely free to everyone who wants to use it!
More than just a repository of individual lessons, videos, articles, and activities, Climate Project offers a cohesive approach to teaching and learning about climate change with complete lessons, engaging activities, and high-quality materials that work together toward that final group project or civic action. The course embraces impatient optimism and evidence-based research as students develop civic actions they can implement in their communities, schools, and lives. Like all OER Project courses, Climate Project is adaptable to a variety of pacing schedules and includes comprehensive teacher support and professional development opportunities that will help teachers get up-to-speed and that will have them feeling confidently prepared to teach this course.
And there’s a demand for it. Check that. There’s a huge demand for it.
Parents, teachers, and students want more climate education. A 2019 NPR/Ipsos poll showed that more than 80% of US parents support the teaching of climate change. And, a separate poll of teachers was even more supportive, with 86%of all teachers polled saying that climate change should be taught. At the same time, most teachers feel they don’t have the subject-matter knowledge or materials needed to confidently teach it.
It’s not too late to avert the worst effects of climate change, and everyone—students, teachers, and administrators—can make a difference. Students can play a critical role in creating a more sustainable way of living and a thriving future, if given the tools to do so. In fact, research shows that “if only 16% of high-school students in high- and middle-income countries were to receive climate change education, we could see a nearly 10 gigaton reduction of carbon dioxide by 2050”—while also making communities more resilient to the effects of climate change. Teachers can inspire students to take action to avoid a climate disaster—if given the material knowledge to teach it confidently and effectively. And administrators can support the 80%of parents and 86%of teachers in the US who want and support the teaching of climate change in schools.
But first, teachers need the goods—sharp, high-quality, accessible, flexible, and ready-to-go materials that are easy to plug in to their classes. And that’s where Climate Project comes in.
About the author: Michael Zis has taught undergraduates at Macalester College since 2003, teaching courses jointly in the Political Science and Environmental Studies departments. In 2021, he was selected as a Periclean Faculty Leader for the first cohort of the Periclean Faculty Leadership Program (PFL) in STEM and Social Sciences, supported by The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and The Eugene M. Lang Foundation. A recipient of the Campus Compact President Award for Civic Engagement, Michael has created lasting community collaborations around the themes of health care, environmental sustainability, and food policy and led urban colloquia in the Pacific Northwest on community building, multiculturalism, inequality, and sustainability. Michael represented Macalester at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, Scotland.