PS 82-83 - Climate change research comes to 5th grade

Friday, August 12, 2011
Exhibit Hall 3, Austin Convention Center
Caroline Polgar, Biology, Boston University, Boston, MA

 As evidence of anthropogenic climate change increases, the percentage of the public that accepts this evidence is decreasing. Educating children about the causes, effects, and misconceptions associated with global climate change is essential for the dissemination of accurate information. Partnerships between research institutions and schools are a natural way to boost public scientific literacy, while simultaneously improving the communication skills of the scientific community. The National Science Foundation’s GK-12 program addresses this issue by supporting graduate students so that they are able to work extensively with K-12 students and teachers. During 2010-2011 I served as a fellow in Boston University’s GK-12 program Project GLACIER (GLobAl Change Initiative: Education and Research). The goal of Project GLACIER is to integrate climate change research into middle school classrooms. As a fellow, my objective was to effectively teach 5th graders about the causes and consequences of climate change. I sought to do this in a way that the students would not think about climate change as an abstract large global problem that affects unknown people and has no hope of being stopped, but as an issue that involves all humans everywhere and that each person can contribute to the solution in some way.


Before beginning our climate change unit, we discussed as a class what students had heard about climate change. While awareness of the existence of climate change was widespread, so were misconceptions about its causes and consequences. Most students understood only that climate change had something to do with the weather getting warmer. We approached the topic in several ways and in several subject areas. In science class we discussed everything from differences between climate and weather to what a molecule of CO2 is, to the greenhouse effect, to the formation and use of fossil fuels. In exploring the connections between “pollution”, a word familiar to every elementary school student, and climate change, students were able to understand how their individual actions could contribute to a global issue. We also incorporated “science” into other subject areas. In math class students learned how to graphically represent data by graphing regional temperature records and global CO2 concentrations over time. Art projects included posters in which students encourage others to reduce their carbon footprint. Although it is complicated subject, through a variety of readings, short lectures, and hands on activities, 5th graders were capable of a fairly comprehensive understanding of global climate change.

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