What Is the Best Way to Teach Students About Climate Change?

New Jersey is taking a comprehensive approach

Teaching climate change has challenges all its own.
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Think about the difference between your region’s climate as it is now and as it was when you were a student. For my part, that involves a lot less snow now than there was then, and a lot more sudden summer rainstorms. There’s a reason that the phrase “the coldest summer of the rest of our lives” has become ubiquitous in recent years, which is borne out by recent climate trends.

All of which begs the question: how does one best prepare a younger generation to deal with the realities of climate change? That’s something that the state of New Jersey took into consideration when decreeing that all students from K-12 would need to learn about climate change — with particular encouragement in the direction of “interdisciplinary units focused on climate change that include authentic learning experiences, integrate a range of perspectives and are action oriented.”

For a glimpse of what that looks like in practice, NPR’s Seyma Bayram explored the way that teachers in subjects from art to physical education are using their areas of expertise to show students how the world is changing. In some cases, this comes very directly from outside conditions — Bayram cites a class in Pennington, New Jersey that had to be held indoors due to concerns over the outdoor air quality from wildfires. It’s not hard to see how those circumstances could make for a literal teachable moment.

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As NPR points out, some other states are exploring similar legislation, while others have opted for a very different (or, in some cases, contradictory) approach. Still, this should be a relatively uncontroversial issue — as of 2019, it’s worth noting that an NPR study found 80% of parents polled wanted their kids taught about climate change.

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