Sunday, January 28, 2007

To Teachers: Useful Links

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

If you follow the link to graphics, you hit the motherlode. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an international agency charged by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with assessing the global impact of climate change and making recommendations for action. Materials are peer-reviewed by scientists and accessible to our students.

Union of Concerned Scientists

I've used this site from the Union of Concerned Scientists to expose my middle school students to the palpable signs of global warming. Be prepared for stunned silence and to allow students to express their sadness and worry. I find it helpful to ask students to express what concerns them most about what they have learned for exploring the map.

Teaching About Global Warming in Truck Country

This is a link to an article I wrote called "Teaching about Global Warming in Truck Country." Follow the story of some western Washington public middle school students as they learn about global warming and do something about it. It appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of Rethinking Schools.

Earthwatch Institute

I am travelling to the arctic thanks to a fellowship from Earthwatch Institute made possible by a grant to Earthwatch from the National Geographic Education Foundation. Log on to learn more. My February 2007 expedition is called Climate Change at the Arctic's Edge.

Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge

This PDF provides a good introduction to what I’ll be doing, besides staying warm, while I’m at the edge of the arctic. Follow the link and lick on “Classroom Earth Case Study”. 

An Inconvenient Truth Educator’s Resource

This site features three well-designed, detailed lesson plans that use the film An Inconvenient Truth as a resource. They recommend sections of An Inconvenient Truth for student viewing. The Tier 1 lesson emphazises personal choice and provides guidance for having students calculate their own atmospheric carbon contribution. Tier 2 looks at public policy and the Kyoto Protocol. Tier 3 is the most comprehensive and features a chemistry lesson for the carbon cycle and a framework for student action on global warming. All three downloads have a lot of material in them: more than could be used without an exclusive focus on global warming. They are designed however so that they can be used flexibly. NOTE: You have to create an account and log-in. Logging in seems to be quirky, so once you’re there, I’d suggest spending the time to get what you need.

Carbon Calculator

This site calculates individual carbon contributions to the atmosphere due to household energy use and transportation. Having students do it would be a way to stimulate conversations at home, as much of the information needed is not the kind of thing students know about already.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Start Off Story

Channel 4 KOMO - TV news called during my fourth period math class today. We were about to start correcting homework and tackle the subject of making projections from linear trends. The phone call got their attention. I dropped the plan and we launched into a conversation about global warming.

The reporter at the TV station had read an article about my upcoming mid February trip in the local paper. The title was "When science meets controversy head-on: Middle school teacher turns arctic researcher as schools consider how to teach environmental issues." Check to see if it's still posted. My students had read it too. One of them asked, "Ms. Dean, why is it so controversial?"

The bulk of the article focuses on the decision of a nearby school district (since repealed) to ban showing "An Inconvenient Truth". I stalled for thinking time before I answered and then told them that I thought there were two reasons.

I told my students that I thought the first reason is that a lot of people don't have the science background to understand the issue. I went on to tell the story of the well-meaning anonymous 9 pm caller who wanted me to know that there were tropical fern fossils in Washington State. Someone in the front row burst out "What about continental drift?!!" Thanks to her science teacher across the hall, she made my point.

I went on to the difference between weather and climate, which are easy to conflate. Weather is the day-to-day variation in precipitation, wind and temperature. Climate consists of long-term seasonal patterns. A community member shared this analogy with me: climate is like the clothes you have in your closet; weather what you're wearing today. I'd been recently emailed a graph showing the average yearly temperatures in Washington State. The graph shows a wiggly line with a long-term trend line drawn through it. The graph is perfect for teaching about trend lines; and the line drawn shows slightly rising temperatures for Washington State. (Go to to find your own state.) I told my students that scientists are looking at lots of graphs like this to predict local, regional and global changes in climate.

"The second reason is controversial," I said, "It is both political and economic. Aside from science background, there are other reasons for people not wanting to believe what we hear about global warming. Why might that be?" I asked. Here's what they said:

Lost profits.
It's sad.
It's scary.
They don't care.
Oil companies don't care and just want to make money off us.
It's hard to change.
It's not convenient.

I didn't have the time in one class period to have the class take a critical look at all the students' ideas, but I will later. I did, however, talk about how inconvenient I'd found it to ride my bike to school one day a week. It takes an hour, but if you graph it, the 20% reduction in fossil fuel consumption adds up. I quit mid-winter when it became dangerous in the dark busy 4pm streets of my northern city. I promised to start up again as soon at it gets light enough for me to feel safe during rush hour.

Focusing on an individual an personal commitment like the one I have tried to make was easy. It will be harder to build background and thinking habits for my students to seek ways to influence the social and economic policies that keep us so dependent on fossil fuels.

Lots of questions ensued. "How will sea levels rise?" "Will Olympia flood?" "Will the ocean rise on the other side of the U.S.?" "Why will sea level rise?" I answered as best I could. I'm not usually the kind of teacher who can do a lot of lecturing and hold their attention. At one point I asked, "Are you bored?" They responded, "No! This is way more important than math!" I turned their attention again to the day's learning goal which was "to make predictions based on linear trends." Then I pointed to the graph I'd sketched on the board. "This is math!" I said.

Then a student in the second row asked, "Ms. Dean, do you think the world is going to end?"

"No way," I answered, "I'm a mother. And I wouldn't bring children into a world I thought would end. And I'm a teacher. And you young people are the future. Why would I spend time with you, the future, if I thought the world was going to end?"