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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Answering the Call: Part Two

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

(Moderator's Note: You may want to read Answering the Call, Part One before reading this post.)

I arrived in Nashville for the Climate Project training on New Year's Day -- what a way to start off the New Year -- making a commitment towards stewardship of our planet and to all the living things that call it home.

Earth

Registration for the Climate Project training went very smoothly. The Nashville volunteers were welcoming and friendly. We received our thick recycled binders full of materials for the two-day training and some very cool swag. My favorite was the project's letterpress poster done by Hatch Show Print. (It's sitting in my closet, waiting to be framed.)

The 200 trainees in Session Three were organized into four geographic groups -- color coded so that we could find other volunteers from our region. The first person I met was a newly-minted genetics PhD from Stanford, followed by a lawyer, a communications consultant from Washington State, an industrial designer, a Web master, a mortgage banker, a teacher, a doctor, an interior designer, a college professor, and the director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Birch Aquarium -- diverse in all respects, including age, race, education, and occupation.

By chance, a former movie visual-effects producer sat down next to me. Based in southern California, he had come to Skywalker Ranch, where I work, several times to do postproduction work on films, but we hadn't met each other before this meeting. His last movie was a big, visual-effects-heavy film about some catastrophic environmental disaster; it involved asteroids, I think. After completing the visual effects, but before the movie came out, he felt a pull to do "important work," and so he left the entertainment industry and started a small nonprofit that teaches people about global warming and other environmental issues.

The Messengers and the Experts

Most people are surprised when I tell them that Al Gore actually was the lecturer for our two days of training. Although climate scientists and energy experts were available to answer questions and speak about specific research findings, Gore had complete command of the subject matter. It was evident that he had been studying global warming since his college days. What we saw in action was not a politician, but a great scientific thinker and teacher in his own right.

The hope of a good teacher is that he or she not only educates but empowers students. Gore has given his An Inconvenient Truth presentation over 1,000 times. One teacher, 1,000 presentations. With 1,000 additional teachers each teaching countless others, the message would go farther and wider.

Spreading the Word

Last week, I gave my first An Inconvenient Truth presentation. My audience was quite sophisticated, and I soon realized that although they were interested in going deeper into understanding the relationship between rising temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide levels, they were ready to apply their knowledge. Once you know, you want to do.

So, what can you do as an interested person? Learn more, and make as many of these simple lifestyle changes as you can. Some people can do more than others, but even if you can do only one or two things, it really does make a difference.

Teach your students the science behind global warming. The Climate Project is developing curriculum that will be ready in late March 2007, and I will let you know how to get it as soon as I get the word. In the meantime, here are some resources available now:

For a clear description of the problem, its causes and basic solutions, Al Gore's book, An Inconvenient Truth is an easy read, with many wonderful photos and graphs.

The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change, by internationally acclaimed scientist and writer Dr. Tim Flannery, delves deeper into the causes and effects, but it is still accessible to a lay audience. There is even a young-adult edition of the book suitable for older students. The Weather Makers Web site includes notes for teachers and science, geography, and language arts activities.

RealClimate, a Scientific American Science and Technology Web Award winner, is a highly credible site on climate science by working scientists for interested public and journalists.

One of my favorite activities is having students determine their ecological footprint. You can see a short video segment of a high school teacher doing this activity using handheld computers. However, you don't need to have handhelds to take the Ecological Footprint Quiz. Kids love to figure out what actions they can take to reduce their footprint on the Earth.

We all contribute to carbon dioxide emissions by driving, flying, and using electricity to heat and light our homes, run our appliances, and more. Even with careful conservation, it's impossible for the average person to be carbon neutral. Carbon offsetting, however, allows us to offset our emissions by funding sustainable-energy projects at home and around the world. There is an increasing number of commercial and nonprofit organizations, including NativeEnergy (a Native American owned energy company) and Carbonfund.org that allow you to calculate how much energy or fuel you use and donate money to offset your carbon footprint. The money you donate is used to finance and build new clean and renewable energy projects.

The free companion educational guide to the Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, was developed by a board-certified science teacher for high school-level science.

The Global Warming: Early Warning Signs and the curriculum guide for the Climate Impacts Map allow students to see the local consequences of global warming.

Check to see what your state is doing and whether it has any energy-education Web sites. In California, there is Energy Quest, an award-winning site developed by the California Energy Commission.

Sometime soon, I'll share what some teachers and students are doing to learn about global warming, and what actions they are taking. If you want to share your story, please post it here. Any lesson plans or units you want to share are welcome.

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia
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Bonnie Bracey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As the world begins to take notice of climate change there is outreach to students and educators by several groups.

Kids Crossing is a great beginning web site that can be used by students individually or by teachers to help define ideas about climate change.

You can explore what it is like to be a drop of water. There are activities listed under water, water everywhere, stuff in the sky, dangerous weather, in the greenhouse and making science happen. In addition to the exploration of these pages with wonderful resources there are games, links, a gallery, and fun facts. There are lots of links to let more learning happen and many other resources. There are stories, activities and safety. There are also definitions told in interesting ways. Yes , there is assessment imbedded.

Making science happen is the part of this web site I like the best.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

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