by Ginger Griffiths, Notre Dame de Sion
This paper examines current climate education in 7th-12th grade classrooms in the US and Kenya, why it is not being taught, and how that can be changed. It would be unethical to deny kids in the US and Kenya climate education, because even if they do not receive it, they will still be responsible for whatever comes next. There are several reasons and solutions for this statement, which were researched through a literature search and field research in Kenya, specifically Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Variations by US states include education standards, pushback from oil and gas companies, and the extent of teachers’ climate education. In Kenya, climate education is not commonly included in school curriculums, teachers do not know much about climate change, and there is less student knowledge and interest in climate change, even though it is having a severe impact on agriculture, wildlife populations, and culture. Finally, a study was done in order to help solve the problem. A lesson plan was developed to teach high school students about trends in Earth’s energy, temperature, and how changing those factors can cause climate change. This will reveal more about student interest and comprehension. Additionally, teachers can give insight into which parts of the lesson plan work and which do not, ultimately contributing to future curriculums. There are many solutions to this problem, many of which will be discussed, including new curriculum, teaching strategies, and community outreach.
In recent years, climate change has become an increasing concern among many scientists, world leaders, and citizens around the world. However, it is not integrated into the curriculum of many schools in the United States and Kenya even though an important part of solving the problem of climate change is awareness and understanding. In Kenya, conservancies can play a key role in educating kids about climate change and preserving wildlife. US public schools are required to follow a curriculum determined by each state, which can cause large variations in what kids are learning by region. A national climate change curriculum could have a significant impact on the preservation of our environment and wildlife. First hand research gathered from school visits during a field study at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya brought new, original information about Kenya’s education system. Comparing this to the United States offers insight that can benefit the development of a comprehensive climate curriculum and the development of students in both countries.
If people do not know what climate change is or fully understand its causes and effects, it will be hard to make changes to our current way of living such as switching to renewable energy and using sustainable materials. According to a study done in 2021, 67% of Gen Z Americans think climate needs to be prioritized, but that belief is not reflected in most US public schools (Funk, 2021). Many educators are reluctant to teach about climate change because they do not think they have the experience or it is too controversial. There is no national standard for climate education, so the choice is left up to the states. Additionally, producers of fossil fuels often spend money on education that is pro-fossil fuels or downplays the seriousness of carbon emissions (Crawford, 2022). Since the US is one of the largest emitters of CO2, it is critical that students know how they are contributing to climate change and how they can make more environmentally friendly decisions. In a way, adults today are failing the next generation by not providing them with education to keep their world safe and clean.
Many Kenyan schools lack sufficient resources to get through their core curriculum requirements, so there is little to no room for climate education, even though Kenyan students are already impacted by climate change. According to a 2015 study, most students are aware of changing rain and weather patterns in their home country. A majority of university students surveyed observed a decrease in the amount (55.6%), late-onset (59.3%), and early ending (55.6%) of the rainy season. However, over 90% were not interested in receiving information about the climate, and 44.4% were not familiar with climate change terminology. (Huho, 2015). Climate change is already having a negative impact on Kenya, and students are noticing, but they are not learning about why it is happening. The rainy seasons keep failing, meaning the country is going through a bad drought. It is harder for people to grow crops, and harder for animals in
wildlife conservancies to survive, in addition to other impacts.
The goal of this paper is to discuss what the current situation is for students in the US and Kenya, why they are not all learning about climate change, whether there is a desire to learn about it, what curriculum could be successful, and solutions for promoting science and problem-solving-based climate education.
A study conducted by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund (TFNEF) analyzed US public school climate education standards by state. Each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia were evaluated and given a grade of A-F on how they address various aspects of climate education, such as what is causing climate change, why it is a problem, and why there is hope for the future. They were also given an overall grade. 27 states earned a B+ or better overall, including the 20 states (and DC) that use the Next Generation Science Standards. This shows that climate education standards are effective at teaching students. Because not all schools have good climate education standards, the task is left up to teachers who feel confident about teaching it or know enough about it. Climate change is a very controversial topic today, so some teachers who could teach about it do not want to. Other teachers with a skeptical view of climate change might try to downplay its seriousness to their students, if they teach it at all. If more states implemented the Next Generation Science Standards, there could be a huge improvement in climate education in the US. In Kenya, students are not the only ones not receiving sufficient education. Many teachers do not realize the cause and effects of climate change and conservation, because the curriculum is designed to prepare students for standardized exams. Inquiry-based learning is a form of active learning that engages students by making real-world connections, by posing questions or problems. This form of instruction compliments teaching the cause and effects of climate change. For example, one might ask students, “What would happen if all the lions were removed from an ecosystem?” If all the lions are removed from an ecosystem, there will be extra prey animals. This would lead to overpopulation, competition for limited resources, and overgrazing. Eventually, much of the plant life would be gone, then the prey population would decline due to a lack of food. In addition to impacts on wildlife, climate change is starting to cause cultural shifts. Pastoralism has been the traditional way of life for many people, dating back thousands of years. Shorter rainy seasons make finding grazing land for livestock more difficult, forcing many people to abandon that lifestyle, and even their cultural identity. This is raising questions about the need for a cultural identity and the extent of climate change’s impact. While both the US and Kenya are making improvements in becoming more sustainable, there are still several obstacles in the way.
The study done by the NCSE and TFNEF found that in the US, there is no national curriculum, leaving everything left up to the states. A few states have instructions in their curriculum for the issue of climate change to be debated, even though there is no debate among scientists over whether climate change is real and who is causing it. Teachers who have a lot of knowledge about climate change can teach it in class, but ones who do not know a lot about it or are climate deniers will struggle to teach it properly. Among the states with underperforming climate education standards, many use vague or confusing wording. That wording distorts climate science as it is presented to students, and is not educational at best, misleading at worst. According to an article written by a member of the MIT Climate Portal Writing Team, Iris Crawford, and guest expert Liz Potter-Nelson, some large oil and gas companies pay for fossil fuel-friendly education to be included in public school classrooms. The Oklahoma Energy Resources Board spent about $40 million in the past two decades on pro-fossil fuel education. While they are truthful about the science behind methods such as hydraulic fracturing and seismic exploration, they do not mention anything about the negative effects fossil fuels have on the environment. In Kenya, many schools simply do not have the resources to get through all of their curriculum. At the end of their high school education, students take the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education. Most of the educators’ focus is on preparing students for that exam, which determines if students will be able to go to college and what their major will be. If they do not pass, they are unable to go to college, so there is not much protected time or priority placed on teaching “extra” course objectives like climate change. All of the focus is on subjects that are on the exam (Kate Spencer).
Clearly, climate change is not being taught thoroughly to all students in the US. But, do secondary school students want to learn about climate change? The answer is yes. In a 2021 study done by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Gen Z adults said climate needs to be a top priority to keep the planet healthy for generations to come. This means that many Gen Z students in school right now feel worried or anxious about not being prepared for the real world. This includes myself, when I read about school curriculum and realize that there are so many adult leaders right now who do not know or do not care about climate change. A desire to learn about climate change correlates with young adults being more concerned that climate change will harm them personally than older adults. Another Pew Research survey found that 71% of young adults in the US (age 18-29) have this worry. Not only are they worried, but 81% of young adults in the US are willing to make lifestyle changes to prevent climate change in the future. Research done by a professor in Kenya found that most university students did not have much knowledge about climate change, if any. Most people in Kenya rely directly or indirectly on agriculture, so climate terminology was seen among the students as something only relevant to farmers. A majority also thought climate education should be taught in primary and secondary schools. Only 15% thought it should be taught at all school levels, even though it is causing droughts that lead to higher poverty levels. This is likely because climate education is not taught in Kenya, so students have no way of knowing how serious the issue is.
A project done by university staff, graduate students, research scientists, and educators developed classroom materials to teach secondary students about climate change in the Southeastern US. A research paper about the process and finished product was published in the journal BioScience. The project was completed over five years. The first two years were for creating activities, the third was evaluation, the fourth was dedicated to training workshops, and in the fifth year the whole project was evaluated. Educators did workshops to familiarize themselves with each portion of the curriculum. The curriculum created was based around experiential learning, collecting data, demonstrations, and more. Critical thinking skills, problem solving, adaptability, communication, self-management, and understanding the process of science were integrated into the classes. Most importantly, the curriculum had students create solutions to problems presented in the class that could help them prepare to create solutions beyond high school. At the same time, the curriculum was optimistic, so students feel empowered to create solutions later. When topics related to climate change were introduced, students would do an activity to give them background about how that topic works. The materials did not include any language meant to convince educators climate change is real because that is not required by the state, but it still used careful language because there could be skeptical students. However, even if there were skeptical students, the goal of the project was to provide engaging, relevant and quality education, which can overcome misconceptions. The material in this program was about education in the Southeastern US, but the framework, main ideas, and likely some of the modules could be applied anywhere. For example, students in drier states like Arizona and parts of California would likely learn slightly different topics than students in the Midwest, but they would both get the scientific reasoning, critical thinking, experiential learning, problem solving skills, and more. Six months after educators attended the workshop, they were sent a survey that asked questions about how and when they used material. A survey was also sent to educators who did not attend the workshop. Slightly more than half of the respondents were classroom teachers. The materials were used mostly in science classes, but also in mathematics, social studies, and language arts. Other situations where they were used were educator presentations, school clubs, and youth programs. Educators gave a lot of positive feedback, citing detailed instructions and ease of use. One teacher mentioned that the students were engaged when learning.
This framework could also be applied to schools in Kenya, adjusting for their education system and the materials available. In Kenya, conservation could play a role in teaching students about climate change and how it is affecting people and wildlife. Teaching about cause and effect, like the example aforementioned, and discussing everyday examples is a great way to engage students. At Lewa Wildlife Conservancy’s Conservation Education Center, there is a simulation about the sustainable use of farmland. One side showed a lush, healthy farm, and the other was brown and dry. When a lever was pulled, drops of water representing rain fell on each farm. On the green side, the water was mostly retained, but on the brown side, a lot of the water ran off of the farmland. The brown side represented soil that was overfarmed, contained less nutrients, and was eroding, making it harder to retain water. On the green side, crops were rotated and water was managed properly, creating healthy soil that could hold water and sustain more plant life. Using a simulation is especially helpful because it is a form of inquiry based learning and helps kids make connections to their own lives and the lives of people around them.
STUDY DESIGN, IMPLICATIONS, & LIMITATIONS
All of the previously mentioned research findings were used to create a lesson plan for high school students. The lesson plan will be sent to teachers, who can use it to teach their high school students.
Earth’s Energy Balance Lesson Plan
Lesson Goals: Students will have a basic understanding of how energy heats and cools the earth, and how certain factors need to be balanced in order to sustain life. They will also learn how changes in those factors can cause climate change.
- Increasing the distance between the Earth and Sun decreases the Earth’s temperature, and vice versa
- As albedo increases, temperature decreases and vice versa
- Earth emits some of the energy that it absorbs as Infrared Radiation
- When the greenhouse effect is increased, temperature increases and vice versa
Necessary materials: Students will need their notebooks, laptops, and something to write with.
- Ask the students to get out their notebook for taking notes and laptop
- Send them the presentation so they can follow along and use the “Build A Planet” simulator
- Present the slideshow (make sure to click on each link as part of the presentation), and have students discuss questions on each slide with their peers
- Have them write down the answers to the questions in their notebook (answering the questions will help lead to the important points of the lesson)
- Send students a National Geographic article about the greenhouse effect to read
- Send them a google form at the end of class to assess their learning and provide feedback about the lesson
- Students will fill out a google form for homework that asks questions about the lesson designed to demonstrate that they learned the material and provide feedback on the lesson.
- Teachers can fill out [a] form. Both will be used to provide feedback for the study.
When the teachers finish the lesson, everyone will fill out the form. The student form will ask questions to make sure they grasped the main idea, and give them an opportunity to share their thoughts on the course. It will reveal the students’ understanding of the material, their interest level, and what more they would like to learn. Then, the lesson plan will be adjusted based on feedback from students and teachers. In order to get the best results from the study, the teachers will be asked to stick with the lesson plan and teach in an objective, scientific manner. The findings from the feedback forms will be incorporated into this paper. This study will help advance students’ knowledge of climate change and researchers’ knowledge of student interest in climate change.
After data from the study has been gathered, it will be used to create solutions. For example, if the “Build A Planet” simulation in the lesson plan is effective at teaching and is enjoyable for students, more simulations will be proposed in the future. If having students read an article is not an effective way of teaching, then that part of the lesson will be adjusted. The same process will be applied for teachers. The information gathered in this study can be used to create change in the future. If students show a large interest in climate change, there will be more evidence it should be integrated into school curriculums. It will also show the teachers’ perspective on teaching climate change, if they found it difficult, and what they liked and disliked about the lesson. The study does have a few potential limitations. The lesson needs to be taught in several classes to make the data accurate. Not everyone teaches the same way, so different classes might have slightly different experiences with the lesson, depending on their teacher. Teachers will be reminded not to insert personal bias into the lesson plan, due to climate change being a controversial topic and the nature of the lesson plan being scientific and objective. Despite the limitations, this study can join other efforts to spread climate change education.
In Kenya, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy uses community engagement to protect its wildlife. In addition to providing conservation education to students, they also offer job opportunities, clean drinking water, and scholarships as a way to encourage sustainable development and conservation awareness in the local community. In Kansas City, the Climate Council General Knowledge Center offers free programs related to sustainable living, food, energy, fashion, and more. A school, company, or organization requests a program through email, and the Climate Council will present it to them free of charge. Their programs have a global impact, reaching all 50 US states and several countries. Bob Grove, one of the founding members, says he hopes that teenagers are interested in learning about climate change. “This is your life we’re talking about…young people like you are going to live with this your entire life.”
Bell, J., Poushter, J., Fagan, M., Huang, C. (2021, September 14). In response to climate change, citizens in advanced economies are willing to alter how they live and work. Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2021/09/14/in-response-to-climate-change-citizens-in-advanced-economies-are-willing-to-alter-how-they-live-and-work/
Crawford, I., & Potter-Nelson, L. (n.d.). Why isn’t my kid learning about climate change in their high school classroom? MIT Climate Portal. https://climate.mit.edu/ask-mit/why-isnt-my-kid-learning-about-climate-change-their-high-school-classroom
Funk, C. (2021, June 2). Key findings: How Americans’ attitudes about climate change differ by generation, party and other factors. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/26/key-findings-how-americans-ttitudes-aboutclimate-change-differ-by-generation-party-and-other-factors/
Huho, J. M. (2015, June). Climate change knowledge gap in education system in Kenya – researchgate. Research Gate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279179079_Climate_Change_Knowledge_Gap_in_Education_System_in_Kenya
Monroe, M., & Oxarart, A. (2019). Integrating Research and Education: Developing Instructional Materials to Convey Research Concepts. BioScience, Vol. 69 (Issue 4), pages 282-291. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz008
Authors not given, report done by the National Center for Science Education and the Texas article name: Freedom Network. Making the Grade? How State Public School Science Standards Address Climate Change. https://climategrades.org