Kristen Poppleton, Director of Education
Growing up I would call myself a summer camp junkie. My parents started taking us camping when we were toddlers and we attended a week long family camp every summer in Minnesota's northwoods. When I hit third grade, my parents packed me off to Girl Scout camp for a week and while the friend I went with cried all week from homesickness I reveled in the freedom, the campfires, the wild edible talks and starlit nights. My camp adventures grew longer and more intense as I grew older, I volunteered as junior counselor at family camp, and the summer after my senior year of high school I went on a 45 day canoe trip in Canada's Arctic. I had no trouble knowing what job I wanted to do in my summers during college. The nine months of the year not spent at camp, were essentially a long countdown. It was also during college that I realized that my love for camp, and more specifically the wild places I had the opportunity to explore and get to know, were essentially linked to science and education.
There is no question that camp and the unique individuals that were my camp counselors and mentors, were what inspired me to enter environmental education. It is because of this, that I was saddened to read Mary Beth Mccauley' article in The Christian Science Monitor, Summer camp: Sunset for an American tradition? The article details how it is increasingly difficult for camps to cater to the life of the modern child and today's parents. School years are longer, there is more concern about still focusing on academics in the summer, and the idea of "unplugging" from modern technology is becoming so foreign to parents and kids that it is hard to sell. Mccauley writes;..."there are other places where young people can learn the stout virtues of confidence, teamwork, and resilience; of independence and friendship; of love of nature. But few disguise the lessons quite the way summer camp does – as pure fun."
As an environmental educator, the loss of these intense experiences in the natural world are what concerns me most. Author Richard Louv labelled this Nature Deficit Disorder, others call this a loss of a sense of place. Regardless of its name, the less positive experiences in the natural world that children have, the less connection they have and the less likely they are to feel real concern for threats to the environment. There is in fact an entire field of research in environmental education called Significant Life Experience Research that looks at how, why, when and where experiences in the outdoors are important. The results are pretty clear. The more you get people outside, the more likely they are to show an affinity for the environment.
The importance of this is obvious from the standpoint of us at the Will Steger Foundation. Without a real concern for the environment, how are we supposed to get people concerned for the effects of climate change? In the next blog I will begin to outline some of the ways we will be addressing this in our new curriculum project, Minnesota's Changing Climate, as well as discuss the possibility of integrating technology with experiences in the natural world in a way that doesn't take away from the experience, but enhances it.
Today was Bike/Walk to Work Day and seeing all the fun events to celebrate it around the Twin Cities Metropolitan area reminded me of the project seen in the video below. It was done with the thought that:
...something simple and fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better. (fun theory)
Events like Bike/Walk to Work Day intentionally build a community of people committed to doing something good for the environment, by limiting the amount they drive to work. Others can become inspired by these actions in part because of how much FUN the people that participate seem to be having.
Think about the community you live or work in. What are some things that could be done to improve the energy efficiency or limit your carbon footprint? How could they be made fun?
Thanks to Minnesota's Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota's Resources (LCCMR), we will be receiving funding over the next two years for a new project, Engaging Students in Environmental Stewardship through Adventure Learning. The $250,000 allocated to the Will Steger Foundation will support the development of a new curriculum, teacher training, online learning and collaboration with schools. The focus of the project will be on investigating the connection between Minnesota’s changing climate and the impacts on ecosystems and natural resources. Outcomes will include the development, evaluation, and implementation of an adventure learning climate change education program, which ties Will Steger’s adventures with engaging content on Minnesota’s natural environment and the impacts of climate change.
The program includes: a) Grades 3-12 curriculum that is reviewed by educators, aligned with Minnesota state standards, and is interdisciplinary, and experiential in nature; b) professional development opportunities for over 300 Minnesota educators through our Summer Institutes for Climate Change Education, c) an online classroom, including multi-media resources and social networking features; and d) evaluation.
A big focus of the new curriculum will be phenology, the study of the effects of climate on plant and animal life cycles, and the skills necessary to be a good observer of these phenomena. We are lucky to have the archives of Will Steger beginning from when he was boy, that show how he has dedicated most of his life to practicing these very skills. Items from these archives will be integrated into the curriculum(see journal excerpt below). An article posted today on the Union of Concerned Scientists website, illustrates the importance of developing observational skills. The article describes that scientists are observing an earlier arrival of spring and the effects this has on animal and plant life cycles. It is because scientists, and other naturalists have spent time recording their observations over long periods of time, that we are able to understand better the results of climate change. Through our new curriculum, we hope to build awareness and interest in Minnesota's natural environment and the impact of climate change, and provide educators and students with the skills necessary for active and life-long stewardship.
An excerpt from Will Steger's weather journal in 1956.
Yesterday John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced the American Power Act a bill that, if passed, would put national limits on carbon emissions that cause climate change. This bill is a fantastic beginning to a discussion in your class about the complexities of environmental policymaking and the provisions the bill lays out.
The short summary of the bill posted to John Kerry's web page reads:
The American Power Act will transform our economy, set us on the path toward energy independence and improve the quality of the air we breathe. It will create millions of good jobs that cannot be shipped abroad and it will launch America into a position of leadership in the global clean energy economy.
In your classroom take the time to figure out if your students think this statement is true based on their own research!
Our Citizen Climate Lesson Plans offer an 8 lesson unit that allows you to dive into environmental policy more deeply, but it is also possible to use the lessons individually. For example, lesson 6 is focused on carbon tax, a key piece of the American Power Act legislation. Similar to a cap and trade system, a carbon tax is a market-based approach to lowering greenhouse gas emissions and stabilizing global warming. Like a cap- and-trade system, a carbon tax introduces a cost for carbon emissions. The lesson provides students and teachers with a brief background on carbon taxing and then gives students the opportunity to play the role of different stakeholders that bring their concerns to the table. Through the activity students are able to gain a real sense of the complexities of environmental policymaking, and because of the American Power Act currently being discussed, have a real and current connection to make their learning more relevant.
For more information, summaries and reflections of the American Power Act:
A recent collaboration between Andrew Revkin and ecoartspace to address the question "What Matters Most," is an excellent example of the exciting and beautiful things that can come out of interdisciplinary work.
Redefining our relationship with the planet is an urgent matter, and one that we cannot afford to drag our heels on. The role of the arts in public engagement is sometimes viewed as a roundabout way of tackling critical environmental issues. But if the arts are one of the few vehicles we have to illustrate common ground, as opposed to an isolated-archipelago existence, then it seems that interdisciplinary collaborations like this one represent an ideal scenario. (Inhabit)
Taking the issue of climate change into the art classroom can be a great way for students to think about how they might represent this issue visually to evoke feeling and perhaps concern from an audience. It can also be therapeutic, especially if students are studying climate change more deeply, and give students a chance to represent their sense of hope or fear around the issue.
Aviva Rahmani, Water Matters: A Beautiful View #9, 2010
Our newest Citizen Climate curriculum emphasizes civic engagement and helps teachers and students understand the critical and complex climate solutions being discussed on the national and international stage. In the curriculum we recommend playing the Stabilization Wedge Game, a game produced by Princeton University's Carbon Mitigation Initiative . The goal of the game is to demonstrate that climate change is a problem which can be solved by implementing today's technologies to reduce CO2 emissions. The game creators, Stephen Pacala and Robert H. Socolow, show that the difference between maintaining our increasing levels of CO2 and leveling out our emissions of CO2 in the next 50 years is approximately 200 billion tons of CO2, and if illustrated graphically is a triangle (see below from Carbon Mitigation Initiative, Princeton University ).
The object of the game is to keep the next fifty years of CO2 emissions flat, using eight 25 billion ton wedges from a variety of different strategies which fit into the stabilization triangle. Students have the opportunity to select from a variety of different strategies categorized as efficiency and conservation, nuclear energy, fossil-fuel based strategies, and renewables and bio storage to fill their triangle with wedges. The game is a good exercise for thinking about all the factors that go into the decision making process, such as money, political will, public opinion etc. I have enjoyed using it with students, but have found it difficult sometime to engage them because the solutions are generally disconnected from daily life.
This week the Garrison Institutes's Climate, Mind and Behavior Project , in cooperation with the Natural Resources Defense Council , came out with what they are calling informally the "Behavioral Wedge." They show how the United States alone could reduce its CO2 emissions by 1 billion tons through easy and inexpensive actions. Actions include, carpooling twice a week or telecommuting once a week; washing clothes in cold water; and unplugging or shutting off electronics more often. The actions outlined in the report, are more relevant to the average student and citizen than those in the Stabilization Wedge Game, and could possibly be integrated into the game when playing with students as a follow up, or as an introduction to solutions they can implement themselves. Let us know how you used it in your classroom, and if we adapt it for our own use we will be sure to post it!
Step 1: Calculate your carbon footprint
As with any diet, all the little things add up – a re-charger here, an incandescent bulb there, no one’s going to notice, right? Well, you might be surprised at how much carbon you personally emit. Try using one of these carbon calculators to get the big picture on your carbon footprint: The Safe Climate Calculator , The Home Energy Saver , and The Home Energy Checkup .
We all know about walking, biking, and public transit, or swapping out your conventional light bulbs for compact fluorescents. But did you know that you can save energy by insulating your water heater? Or that buying locally grown food means using less fossil fuels? Here are some tips from Audubon Magazine on how to start your “low-carbon diet.”
Step 3: Offset your remaining emissions
Emissions offsetting involves using or enhancing natural processes that trap carbon dioxide and “sink” it (take it out of the atmosphere by transforming it into solid carbon). Carbon sinks include forests, fens, and oceanic plankton. Planting trees and reforestation are some of the best long-term means of offsetting carbon emissions. You can purchase emissions offsets from companies and nonprofit organizations that plant the number of trees needed to offset a specific amount of emissions – say, the amount generated by your family’s round-trip vacation flight. There are many such companies that you can find over the internet. But, buyer beware – some of these companies are scams or involve questionable practices (such as bulldozing existing forests, ironically enough, to plant enough trees to fill the promised quota). Conduct some research about the companies you are interested in purchasing emissions offsets from in order to find out more about their business history.
Here are some companies that the Will Steger Foundation has researched and found to be reputable: Carbonfund.org , Terrapass, and Native Energy.
I came across this great video today on TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. It is only 4 minutes, 14 seconds long, but it gives a great peak into the scientific research that can go into the making of a headline.
In 4 minutes, atmospheric chemist Rachel Pike provides a glimpse of the massive scientific effort behind the bold headlines on climate change, with her team -- one of thousands who contributed -- taking a risky flight over the rainforest in pursuit of data on a key molecule.
ClimateChangeLIVE Education Resources Highlights-Part 2 Webinar
Dec 11 - 07:30pm - 09:00pm
Climate and Energy Literacy Webinar: Eyewitness to Climate Change
Jan 15 - 06:30pm - 08:00pm
Professional Development Programs for Climate Change Education Webinar
Jan 29 - 07:30pm - 09:00pm
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