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Sustainability, Climate Change and Education

2012/05/07

To anyone out there who has been checking in and waiting for a new post: my apologies.  You see, for the past two weeks, most of my free time has been spent either doing yard work (because NOW is the precious time between snow and BUGS!) or working on a presentation about climate change.

Every year, the teachers of my school board get together for an “Area Association Meeting” where we discuss the state of our little school board (6 schools, 100 staff, about 850 students) have elections and celebrate a particular teacher for their exceptional work (no, it wasn’t me).  As part of the day, there are usually professional development presentations such as how to use technology in the classroom, working with students with learning disabilities and the like.  These are usually done by experienced fellow teachers who wish to share their knowledge.

This year, when we were asked if anyone wished to do a presentation, I offered to do one on climate change.  Although I do not consider myself an expert, I believe I have a responsibility to raise awareness about the subject whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Also,  I knew that the folks at 350.org were having their Connect the Dots campaign (I recommend you take a look – the photos are quite inspiring) on May 5th, the day after our Association Meeting.  So, I figured I could do my part by creating some awareness among my fellow teachers.

I spent many hours looking through websites and documents as well as speaking to a climatologist at the University of PEI in order to create a presentation that explained what climate change is, how we know it is happening, how it is affecting PEI and places around the world, what needs to be done and the benefits of taking action.  I was (and still am) very proud of what I put together.  Unfortunately, I was not given enough time to go through the entire presentation – our Education Minister arrived early and presentations were cut short so we could listen to him speak.

However, after the presentation, I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine who happens to work on science and math curricula at the Department of Education.  We were asking ourselves what kind of changes should be made to the education programs in order to properly prepare our students for the realities of tomorrow.  As I hope most of you will agree, battling climate change and creating a sustainable society requires more that just discussing environmental issues every once in a while.  It has to be a change in values, a change in how we see the world and the natural resources that it offers.

We can’t just make that kind of change by offering an environmental sciences course in high school (although that would be a great thing to do).  We have to teach children about the importance of nature, the importance of biodiversity and the necessity of clean air, water and soil, as early as possible.  We have to make them understand the importance of conservation and the dangers of consumption.  We have to make children understand that the contents of a garbage can do not magically disappear after the garbage man puts it in his truck.  But how do we do it?

And so, I leave you with a question that I hope you will answer in the comments section below:  What, if any, should be the role of schools in preparing our children to be responsible citizens and responsible stewards of the Earth?

As always, I look forward to reading what you have to say.

JP

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Martin Lack permalink
    2012/05/08 6:09 am

    H there. Well done you. I hope you saw the recent piece on the Yale Forum website by a National Park ranger on communicating the issues to the public?

    As for what we should do to help children understand the issues, I think children are far more open to understanding than are adults. Therefore, we should educate them to understand that:
    — Sea level rose 75 metres in response to a 6 Celsius increase in global average temperatures at the end of the last Ice Age (due to melting of land-based ice);
    — Most climate scientists expect human induced change of at least 2 to 4 Celsius;
    — More than 1 billion people live at an altitude of less than 25 metres above sea level;
    — Much of the world’s most productive farmland is also threatened by sea level rise; and
    — Global population is unlikely to stop rising until the end of the Century, by which time there may be 50% more humans alive than there are today.

    After that, it is essential that we get them out of the classroom:
    — Take them to a farm to see animals being fed from huge grain stores and to a mill to see grain being turned into flour, then ask them which one is making best use of the crops grown?
    — Take them to a water treatment plant and show them how water is prepared for human consumption, then ask them whether it makes sense to use this water to flush the toilet, wash the dishes and clean our clothes?
    — Take them to a mine to see rock being excavated from the Earth and/or processed into raw materials (used to make metals and ceramics) and, given that plastics are made from hydrocarbons, then ask them what we will do when we run out of resources?
    — Take take them to a landfill site and to a waste recycling facility, then ask them which one makes more sense?

    • 2012/05/09 9:22 am

      Thank you Martin for the “well done”, the link and the suggestions.
      I’ll be taking down all these ideas.
      I especially like the concept of taking students out of the classroom to really see how the world works. To see where our food and materials come from and where our waste goes. I’ve taken students to see recycling and composting sites and they really enjoyed it. I’d like to make that a permanent part of my grade 10 science course. Same with going to visit farms and aquaculture sites.

      Thanks again.

      • Martin Lack permalink
        2012/05/09 9:40 am

        I am delighted to have been of some use. My post tomorrow – including a link to yours – will be about the need to combat the ignorance and scientific illiteracy of a large proportion of the global human population (which is the only excuse for opposing wind farms IMHO).

  2. 2012/05/11 5:20 am

    Check out the All Species Day video for art and environment. Best of luck with the curriculum.

    • 2012/05/11 1:49 pm

      I looked that up. Just to make sure, are you referring to 1987 All Species Day video?
      Thanks for your suggestion!

      • 2012/05/11 11:54 pm

        Yup. I’ve seen incorporating art do wonders. Mask making was a great one and incorporating “plays” builds confidence etc etc

      • 2012/05/12 11:25 am

        That day needs to come back!

  3. 2012/06/13 9:03 pm

    Am I too late?!

    This is such a fantastic thing, JP. Nice work!

    I know that here in Aus, a lot of primary schools (approx 5- 12yr olds) are starting to introduce small kitchen gardens and the like, to get kids out of the classroom and to give them an understanding of where food comes from and how it grows. I think this is a brilliant initiative, but there does need to be so much more.

    Excursions, like Martin suggests, are also a fantastic idea. Kids always get excited by any kind of trip away from school, so it’s often the best time for them to absorb info!

    I guess, when targetting kids of a younger age group, stats are important but not as important as relating things to their every day. Talk to them about things that they relate to every day, like the seasons changing and how that may be affected.

    I’ll keep thinking on it!

    • 2012/06/14 4:45 am

      Thank you very much for your input. I agree with you and Martin that getting the kids out of the classroom is important. I also like the idea of getting them to see nature up close – that includes your idea of a garden. We have a lot of space around our building so we could do something interesting with it. I’ve also thought of doing some tree planting – we have so much grass that isn’t even used by the students.

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