Climate change is a multifaceted problem that requires interdisciplinary solutions, points out Margaret Wang, cofounder of Subject to Climate, a national nonprofit that supports teachers across all content areas and grade levels with credible and engaging resources (including full lesson plans) about climate change. What sparks the interest of one student (say, math) may be totally different from another (say, art). And we need everyone, across all disciplines, to be involved in finding solutions.
In keeping with this approach, New Jersey recently became the first state to start integrating climate education across all content areas, K–12. It makes sense, says wellness teacher Suzanne Horsley. “We are a state with a huge shoreline—and are impacted by climate change in a lot of ways.” Kids are hearing about climate-related natural disasters on a regular basis, and they’re passionate about the topic. “So the ways in which we can provide a foundation, as teachers, are really important.”
While many teachers may feel daunted by the idea of incorporating climate education into their classes, Wang offers assurances. “Schools in other states can learn from New Jersey by seeing how climate change can seamlessly integrate into what teachers are already teaching,” she says. What’s really important is that teachers have the support and resources to do so.
And while New Jersey may be the first place to teach climate change across the curriculum, it won’t be unique for long. The Los Angeles Unified School District has passed a resolution for climate change to be taught in all grade levels and subjects. In Oregon, legislation is pending to follow suit. In Maine, the government has allocated $2 million for professional development in climate change. And in Wisconsin, there are new environmental literacy standards.
Horsley and Wang agree that the way teachers approach the subject is important— playing games and doing design challenges are just two great ways to get kids out of their seats and moving while they’re learning about climate change, which has the potential to be anxiety provoking. It’s important that kids be reminded of solutions and their own agency in helping with these solutions. After doing a recent climate change Jamboard with her third-grade students, teacher Cari Gallagher noted, “When I see the positivity in the responses, I feel just great inside. Their takeaway is, ‘OK, this is how it is, but this is how we’re going to fix it.’”
Her student Max agrees: “Climate change is dangerous, but we shouldn’t panic, because we can help stopping it. We could help stop it every day by doing little things that add up to big things.”
To learn more about the efforts in New Jersey, read Daniel Leonard’s article for Edutopia, “Teaching Climate Change in Every Subject.”