Since 2012, environmental education researchers at NC State University have been working to understand how kids best learn about climate change. Their work highlighted a key difference in the way children and adults process information about the climate. As we all know, climate change can be a politically polarizing topic. In fact, many adults are more likely to base their climate views on their politics rather than on science. But, since kids haven’t developed political views yet, they are more likely to take scientific information at face value. Basically, kids like to learn about climate change, and they are excited to learn they can do something about it.
In one project, NC State researchers worked with middle school students and teachers, as well as experts from the State Climate Office of North Carolina and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, to spread the word about climate change impacts on wildlife and what people can do to help. They developed a five-lesson curriculum for middle schoolers, which includes suggestions for teachers to partner with organizations in coastal North Carolina. The goal is to get kids outside observing wildlife and making a difference through service learning. The lessons are fully correlated with the middle school NC Essential Science Standards, Common Core, and Next Generation Science Standards.
The research shows that this curriculum works. Kids learn about climate change, and they also become both more concerned about it, and more hopeful that they can make a difference. This all leads to a higher likelihood that they will do things like save energy to help prevent climate impacts on wildlife and people.
In the Weather, Climate and Wildlife lesson, students collect and graph local weather data and then play a game to understand the difference between weather and climate. The Climate and Habitat lesson encourages students to compare temperature and rainfall with vegetation and wildlife ranges to figure out how they are interconnected. The Adapting to Change lesson is part of a new Intergenerational Transfer project. Students participate in a service-learning project with a community partner, interview their parents/guardians, and complete a reflective blog post.
The full curriculum can be found at go.ncsu.edu/wwcc.