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In Washington state, classrooms are putting climate change at the forefront of K-12 education

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In Washington state, classrooms are putting climate change at the forefront of K-12 education

The UW Institute for Science + Math Education has partnered with ClimeTime, a Washington public schools initiative for climate science education, to put a $4 million science education grant to work, educating teachers and providing equitable access to STEM education.

ClimeTime (CT), which works under the Washington state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), is currently working on teacher workshops and various training that the UW College of Education called, “The most ambitious statewide climate science education initiative in the United States.”

The grant is funded by the state and will put $3 million of the money directly into Washington’s nine Educational Service Districts (ESDs), and $1 million into community-based organizations that will hold science teacher training workshops, according to CT.

“We are providing teacher professional learning through the lens of the [Washington State Science and Learning Standards],” Ellen Ebert, director of learning and teaching at OSPI, said. “Science learning begins in kindergarten when children make observations about patterns in weather. The standards progress in complexity as students move through elementary and middle school and then to high school.”

There will be 16 positions open for teachers to develop new climate-focused course materials to be utilized throughout Washington. These efforts will work to help Washington public schools meet the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were originally requested by Gov. Jay Inslee at the beginning of the academic year to help classrooms be more climate-conscious.

According to the UW College of Education, there are workshops coming up that teachers can participate in around the state, which focus on current climate issues. Two of the workshops, Understanding Urban Water Systems and Engineering Community Solutions, will both be facilitated by Islandwood, an environmental, experiential learning organization on Bainbridge Island that is already a popular destination for local school trips.

Other workshops will focus on learning about wildfires, water, and waste in the Pacific Northwest.

The desire for climate change education is gaining popularity in the United States. According to NPR, more than 80% of parents in America want climate change to be taught in classrooms, but most teachers do not teach it. NPR also noted that this desire was bipartisan, where parents who wanted climate change in classrooms consisted of both Democrats and Republicans, with 91% and 66% expressing interest, respectively.

Overall, teachers were the most supportive. Over 85% of educators recognized an imminent climate disaster and the need to teach kids about it during the school day.

But there still is a disparity between the desire for education and what’s actually getting taught at home and in class.

According to NPR, fewer than half of parents are talking about climate change with their children, and many classrooms don’t teach human-caused climate education, despite often having state mandates to do so.

The causes for these as highlighted through NPR interviews are more complex than they would seem. According to teachers highlighted in the article, many see climate change as being outside of their subject matter, and many noted how they did not have time to fit the material in with other state-mandated material. And, they worry about parent complaints.

These factors highlight the need for focused climate education and situate the importance of the Washington state grant. There is some research about climate education and some helpful tips provided by another NPR article, but there needs to be further work related to it.

According to a study by Ohio State University in the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, teachers report that they feel climate change education is important, consistent with data collected by NPR, but say that their own knowledge is inadequate.

Another issue highlighted by the study was a large amount of misinformation about the climate emergency. The study recommended widespread use of proper education and interdisciplinary science teaching akin to the workshops that OSPI seeks to implement in Washington state.

“For children to fully understand climate change, their science education must begin in kindergarten and progress coherently through high school,” Ebert said.

According to Ebert, science education in Washington will progress from simple concepts to interweaving more complex ideas later on. For example, at a fifth-grade level, students will get an introduction to Earth and space sciences, learning about the geosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere.

Currently, according to CT’s April 2019 newsletter, there have been various workshops happening throughout the year including both children and their parents.

CT’s vision for long-term interdisciplinary science education will start working in full force as their 16 selected teachers begin their work on new classroom materials.

Reach reporter Thelonious Goerz at Twitter @TheloniousGoerz


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