Resources for Educators

Teaching Climate Change

What Educators Should Know and Can Do

Teaching about climate change is challenging, yet essential. In a recent article published in American Educator, Purdue professors Daniel Shepardson and Andrew Hirsch outline five critical topics that students should learn and that every adult should understand.

Below we've summarized these five topics, but we encourage you to check out their (free) article in full. In it, Shepardson and Hirsch review students' understanding of climate change and barriers to teaching it, they elaborate on key concepts, and they provide pedagogical suggestions for integrating these concepts into classroom learning.

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BONUS: Listen to Shepardson & Hirsch talk about strategies for teaching climate change on the Class Dismissed podcast (Episode 140).

Summary: Five Critical Topics

1) Students need to understand the relationship between weather and climate. Weather is a snapshot of day-to-day conditions at a location. Climate is the long-term (>30 years) average of weather conditions. Knowing how climate data are generated and what those data actually represent are essential to understanding the concepts of climate variability and climate change.

2) Students must understand the components of earth’s climate system--atmosphere, oceans, land, vegetation and ice--and their interactions. Interactions go beyond simply cause and effect, and should be viewed in terms of interdependence and feedbacks. A change in any one component alters conditions throughout the entire system, affecting the climate.

3) Students must understand how energy from the sun and heat radiating off the Earth interacts with the Earth’s atmosphere to warm or cool the planet. This process, known as the greenhouse effect, is responsible for making the wide variety of life on Earth possible. However, the greenhouse effect is intensified as humans add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, resulting in global warming.

4) Students must understand how carbon is moved through the Earth’s climate system, how society uses fossil fuels, and the major sources of CO2 emissions. The driver of human-caused climate change is our use of fossil fuels, and to mitigate (reduce) global warming this usage must be understood and addressed.

5) The scientific community strongly agrees and concludes that human activities are causing global warming, which in turn causes climates to change. Educators need to teach the scientific perspective about climate change. The debate and controversy lie in the social, economic, and political approaches to mitigate and adapt to global warming and climate change.

About the authors:

Daniel P. Shepardson is a professor of geoenvironmental and science education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University. Andrew S. Hirsch is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Purdue University.

This article draws from sections of Teaching and Learning about Climate Change: A Framework for Educators (Routledge, 2017), edited by Shepardson, Anita Roychoudhury, and Hirsch.

"I teach at a local school and have been looking at curriculum options that will give 8th graders the opportunity to research past temperatures and explore climate change using real data. Textbook curriculum has nothing on this, so I have been scouring the internet. I am thrilled to have found IN CCIA's easy to use information & website. It gives direct data for Indiana, so my students have a vested interest."

-- Maribeth Holland, science teacher

Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment

We are currently developing curriculum to help formal and informal educators bring the IN CCIA into their lesson plans. This will include classroom resources for K-12 educators, Extension-specific materials, and resources for other types of educators.

While these are under development, please see our External Links section below for additional resources.

If you’re interested in climate change-related programming, or would like to be involved in developing or testing the IN CCIA educational resources, please contact Melissa Widhalm (mwidhalm@purdue.edu; 765-494-8191).

Two boys at outdoor festival

New Resources from Purdue Extension

A new series from Purdue Extension aims to help community and regional planners understand and prepare for climate change.

Access resources from the Purdue University Extension Education Store (keyword: climate change).

What Can I Do About Climate Change?

Lasting climate solutions will require action on a global scale, but there are many ways that individuals can help pave the way for bigger change. We’ve summarized four practical tips for how YOU can address climate change into a printable poster (right). You can also download each individual "tip card" below.

External Links

The Dynamics of Climate Toolkit was developed at Purdue University to help educators understand both the science of climate and climate change and the pedagogy for effectively teaching it. The toolkit includes curriculum for an 8-hour training workshop, with activities designed to engage participants in analyzing and interpreting climate data sets and visualizations in a collaborative setting. The workshop also addresses major misconceptions students and adults hold about climate, and climate change.

Companion activities for conceptualizing climate and climate change:

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Developed by 4-H educator and Purdue professor Natalie Carroll, this 3-part series and facilitator’s guide provides hands-on and expert-reviewed material for grades 3-12. Students will first learn basic weather words and ideas, and the difference between weather and climate. Additional topics explore how the weather works, weather measurements, and natural hazards before addressing more complex topics such as energy balance, natural and human influences on the climate, and climate change.

Are you interested in learning more about the curriculum, straight from the author and a 4-H educator? Watch a webinar about the curriculum, available here.

The CLEAN Collection of Climate and Energy Educational Resources includes over 700 free, ready-to-use learning resources rigorously reviewed by educators and scientists that are suitable for secondary through higher education classrooms.

Climate + Youth

Student and youth organizer Iris O'Donnell Bellisario explains why she's passionate about fighting climate change and the unique ways she's spreading awareness about this important topic.