Earth Day is just a couple of weeks away, making April the perfect time to work climate change into your lesson plans. It is hard to deny that climate change is overwhelmingly caused by humans. The evidence is there, and if we’re not careful future generations are going to have a very difficult time living on Earth. While positive strides have been made, it is imperative that the next generation understands the seriousness of climate change so they can be motivated to change it.
So, how do you go about teaching it? Ideally you want to not only teach students climate change, but engage them with the material so they want to start making a difference. One fun way to start this is by splitting your class into teams and having a classroom debate about climate change. Half your students should argue that climate change is natural, while the other half argues it is caused by humans. Debate is excellent because it forces students to find legitimate sources to back up their claims, engages their minds, and makes them think critically about the information. A debate alone can have a large impact on how students think about climate change.
You can transition from the debate into a lesson that really dives into the data surrounding climate change. Climate change has been extensively studied, so there’s a lot of data to look at. This data can come in the form of numbers, graphs, charts…whatever is going to be easiest for your students to understand. Some examples of data you can compile to show your class includes: the rising sea level, the rising global temperatures, warming oceans, the shrinking of ice sheets, the increase in severe weather events, and much, much more.
You may also consider inviting a climate scientist to speak with your students. With how much technology we have at our fingertips, you don’t even necessarily have to get a scientist to come in person. Take advantage of Skype and ask if a scientist will speak with your class that way. Climate scientists are very knowledgeable about climate change and can hit the most important points that they think your students should know.
Highlight major consequences of climate change across different parts of the world. Climate change can lead to more drought, something we’ve already seen in California and other parts of the world. In developed countries, this has an impact on agriculture. In developing cultures, not only does it limit crops but it can lead to death, due to there simply not being enough water. Extreme weather events such as flooding, hurricanes, and tornados can destroy towns and even countries, leaving thousands or even millions of people displaced and in danger. Costal settlements are at risk from rising sea levels. While this may not have a large impact on your students now, it may force people to move a hundred years from now as the rising water threatens their homes and communities. You should also discuss how climate change will hurt those in poverty. Services these people rely on may be disrupted. As we saw with Hurricane Katrina, for example, those in poverty were less likely to have the resources to escape the hurricane. Similarly, those living in poverty in both developed and undeveloped nations may not have the resources to combat their new climate situations. When students can see how devastating climate change truly is, they are more likely to take an interest.
Put a local spin on it. Show how climate change has impacted the area your students live in. This is going to require some research on your part, but it will really drive home the point that climate change affects everyone. From there, teach students about small things they can do about climate change. The EPA website is a great resource for giving students ideas. There may also be local organizations that students can volunteer to help the efforts to stop rapid climate change.
Don’t forget to give your students hope. Cite the steps that have already been taken internationally to reduce global warming. You don’t want your students leaving class terrified that climate change is going to lead to disastrous consequences for them in the immediate future. The goal is for them to realize that change is needed, and to inspire them to help that change come about.