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April 19, 2021

Engaging with Earth Day—Even If You Don’t Teach Science

The theme for Earth Day is climate action in recognition of the enormous challenge, but also the vast opportunity, that climate change presents for our generation and future generations.

A 2019 NPR/Ipsos poll showed that while 84% of parents think climate change should be taught in schools, only 42% of teachers are teaching it. Given the current state of affairs, we think that both teachers and parents have a tremendous opportunity to use Earth Day as a jumping-off point to incorporate lessons that address climate change and the actions we can take to combat it.

Why teaching about climate change is important

For us at Match Fishtank, creating a culturally relevant curriculum means including issues of contemporary and immediate relevance for students in the scope of our curriculum. Climate change is certainly one of these topics.

Among teens in a 2019 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, climate change evoked three emotions in over half of the respondents: afraid (57%), motivated (54%), and angry (52%). Bringing lessons into the classroom that provide both factual information and pathways to action can help assuage some of the fear and anger, and provide outlets for the motivation many feel.

How to bring climate change into the virtual and at-home classroom 

Throughout our K–12 English Language Arts and Math curriculum, we offer resources for providing grade-level appropriate exposure to the issue of climate change.

  1. Build knowledge about the environment with informational texts

In the lower elementary grades, we have the opportunity to lay the groundwork for understanding how plants, animals, and humans are interconnected with the planet we all call home. Beginning as early as kindergarten, students can learn about life cycles, habitats, animals, and adaptations, accumulating content knowledge and vocabulary each year about the environment while also honing their language skills.

In upper elementary grades, students can be prompted to make connections between human activities and effects on the environment. They can examine broader topics like natural disasters and energy, before moving into closer examination of specific crises like plastic pollution.

With this kind of foundation, middle school students are equipped to engage with the complex topic of climate change. In addition to reading rigorous nonfiction texts about the science and politics of climate change, they can begin to consider their own agency and role in combating the climate crisis.

  1. Reflect, discuss and write about human behavior and climate change

Works of fiction and persuasive writing are two other avenues to help students understand their feelings and articulate their potential impact in efforts to combat climate change.

The Lorax provides an early opportunity to make cause-and-effect connections between actions and the environment. Independent reading options like Crunch by Leslie Connor, The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba, and Flush by Carl Hiaasen give students a chance to extend their understanding of climate-related themes.

Once students have established a foundation of knowledge around a topic, they can demonstrate their personal insights by writing a persuasive piece intended to convince community leaders to use a particular source of energy, suggest a solution for reducing plastic use in their school, or urge their representatives in Congress to take action on climate change.

An emerging sub-genre of science fiction called climate fiction, or cli-fi, presents a chance for students to blend their understanding of the implications of climate change with their narrative writing skills. By examining mentor texts in the genre, students can be equipped to write their own short stories responding to the prompt: What might life on this planet look like if we do not address the climate crisis?

  1. Analyze real-world climate data

With the grounding of content knowledge, middle and high school math investigations can offer students the opportunity to work with actual climate data. Units that focus on statistics are a great platform for understanding and analyzing data sets.

Beginning in 6th grade, as students develop their vocabulary and basic analysis skills, they can describe the distribution of data points and determine the best measures of center for a data set. This can quickly build to formulating arguments about what data represents, and using statistical measures to support an argument.

As students progress, they can practice comparing two data sets (perhaps temperatures from 100 years ago and today) and drawing inferences. In 8th grade, they can begin using equations to make predictions beyond the scope of a data set. By Algebra 1, students’ work with statistics is more rigorous, as they begin to calculate correlation in bivariate data and refine their predictions.

As students move from building their content knowledge, to understanding their agency to make change, to using their analytical skills to test hypotheses and make predictions, they can become informed citizens, prepared to take the action necessary to stem the effects of climate change. This Earth Day—and every day—we have a chance to set this process in motion.


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