A climate change guide that is truly teacher-friendly

The Paleontological Research Institution was awarded a 2019 NCSE Friend of the Planet Award for its Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change, a comprehensive resource for high school earth and environmental science teachers.

Three teachers

A lone but confident teacher stands in front of the classroom. She is teaching an amazing lesson about climate change and the planet’s future. A hand shoots up into the air, pumping with excitement, and she thinks, “Yes, yes ... this is why I teach!” The student, face shining, then announces with much fervor that climate change isn’t really happening: it is all a made-up  theory. And so the teacher’s bubble of enthusiasm instantly pops.

How might our teacher regroup and recover from this sudden setback? Simple. All she has to do is to turn to the Paleontological Research Institution’s The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change, which will prepare her to blow away each and every misconception out there about this vitally important topic. Even seasoned teachers, who have already fielded every conceivable objection to the science of climate change during their tenure, will take away new facts and ideas from this valuable teacher resource.

At NCSE, we were so impressed with this teacher guide that we recently awarded the Paleontological Research Institute (PRI) our coveted Friend of the Planet award. Ann Reid, NCSE’s Executive Director, personally presented the award to Don Haas, one of the authors and editors of the guide, during the American Geophysical Union 2019 meeting in San Francisco.

While there are many texts out there already about climate change, this is the first guide specifically written with educators in mind, according to the preface.

The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change is the tenth guide in a series produced by PRI since 1999. This newest guide was published in 2017 owing to a growing need to help teachers navigate the socially and politically polarizing subject. While there are many texts out there already about climate change, this is the first guide specifically written with educators in mind, according to the preface. Additionally, it stands out for the way in which it focuses on solutions. For example,  it helps teachers to educate students on how decisions about energy use are directly correlated to climate change rates and to help students evaluate both short-term and long-term solutions.

"This book is so comprehensive, but readable," says Kelli Grabowski, pictured below, who is a science teacher from Hamburg, NY, and the founder of the Western New York Youth Action Climate Summit. "It has enhanced my understanding of climate change so I feel confident teaching about it and confronting controversy that is fueled by misunderstanding."

According to the introduction, the book is written for high school earth science and environmental science teachers. But with climate change currently spreading throughout all facets of our society—economic, social, political, psychological, and historical—the lessons of this book would easily translate to many other areas of teaching. An entire biology course could be written around the conceptual framework that: (1) climate change is real; (2) it’s serious; (3) it’s us (that is, in recent years, climate change is mostly anthropogenic); and (4) there’s hope—we can find solutions. Other educational areas that could benefit from this manual are the social sciences and mathematics. Both history and government instructors could use this text to help develop platforms for discussion. And an understanding of mathematical principles are vital to understanding climate change, so math classes would be a perfect place to demonstrate modeling and graphing skills, which are a central component of any course of study on the subject. The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change is truly interdisciplinary.

Master teacher with guide.

Master teacher with the Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change. (Photo courtesy of the Paleontological Research Institution.)

The Paleontological Research Institute is crowdfunding an effort to ensure that, by the year 2022, every science teacher in the nation will have received a copy of this guide. So far, PRI has met this goal in 14 states and counting! The hope is to send it to every single teacher in a school building—big or small—to make sure that all educators have access to research-based science on climate change, regardless of the subject they teach or where they teach.

Don Haas told me the two most important goals his organization wants to achieve with this text: that any scientifically literate person who wants to teach about climate change will have a comprehensive resource to do so, and that teachers who face obstacles to the teaching of climate change, whether they be scientific misconceptions or ideological resistance, will be able to address their audience with knowledge and confidence. He also observed that PRI’s guide is one of the first teacher guides to address how the planet’s history has been affected by climate change. As we know from the evolution wars, there are many misconceptions that can interfere with student understanding of deep time, so its inclusion in this resource is vital for better understanding in the classroom.

My favorite aspect of the guide is that it is organized in a way that teachers can easily find the exact topic or concept they are looking for quickly. The format has a very Cornell Notes vibe, with space to write notes in the margins, bolded keywords and phrases (with definitions) to help teachers brush up quickly on their topic of interest, and a variety of resources to share with students provided on every page. In fact, PRI even has an online version of the book, free to all, which links to many activities and labs that could be conducted in conjunction with the topics covered in the book. The website is a work in progress and new content is added monthly.

So not only is The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change among the very best resources available for anybody teaching about climate change, it promises to remain so in the future. NCSE recommends it without reservation.

NCSE Director of Teacher Support Lin Andrews
Short Bio

Lin Andrews is NCSE Director of Teacher Support.