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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Climate ed in PE, art . . . ?

New Jersey teachers are teaching about climate change in all grade levels and subjects, writes Caroline Preston on the Hechinger Report. New learning standards requiring the lessons went into effect this fall.

For example, in affluent Pennington, third graders in wellness (PE) class tossed balls of yarn representing carbon-dioxide molecules to classmates representing forests to show that "after the advent of cars, factories and electricity, and massive deforestation," it's become harder to get carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

"What is it causing?" asks teacher Suzanne Horsley, who has a master's in outdoor education.

"Global warming," answers a student.

(Native Americans cleared the forests, often using fire, to create crop lands centuries before Europeans landed. Deforestation peaked in teh 1870's.)

Climate lessons haven't drawn much fire in New Jersey, writes Preston, because conservatives are focusing on the state's new sex-education standards. It's also likely many teachers aren't trying to teach about climate, at least not yet. A 2021 survey found many of the state's teachers lack confidence in their knowledge of the subject, she writes.

New Jersey has allocated $5 million for lesson plans and teacher training.

Supporters are trying to ensure that teachers have plenty of examples for teaching the standards in age-appropriate ways, with racial and environmental justice as one of the key features of the instruction. . . . At Hopewell Valley Central High School, in Pennington, art teacher Carolyn McGrath piloted a lesson on climate change this summer with a handful of students. The results of the class — four paintings featuring climate activists — sat on the windowsill of her classroom.
“It felt empowering to see people like me, who reflect me and my identities,” said Mackenzie Harsell, an 11th grader who’d created a portrait of 24-year-old climate activist Daphne Frias, who, like Mackenzie, is young, and is disabled.

It's pretty. But is it science?

Sarah Slack, a middle-school science teacher in Brooklyn, is working to create a climate-focused STEM curriculum, reports Amy Zimmer on Chalkbeat.

She doesn't want her students to feel overwhelmed. “Instead of making them feel they have to save the world, I can help them see how to save their own communities,” she told Zimmer.

My classes have spent a lot of time this year measuring the temperature of different surfaces around our school — cement, pavement, dirt, and grass. Their data shows that pavement can be as much as 40 degrees hotter than grass on warm sunny days and close to 30 hotter than cement. . . .
. . . without prompting, my students began to think of solutions. What if we painted the pavement? What if we planted some trees? What if we replaced the asphalt with grass? Any or all of those things might make our community a little more resilient as extreme heat days increase in frequency in the coming years.

Slack worked on a research team at NASA as part of the Climate Change Research Initiative and investigated glacier melt in a PolarTREC program off the coast of Antarctica. I have faith that she understands the science and is able to teach it.

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