Joint climate effort pushes science literacy

science student-768

Ben Zolyomi, a student at the Albuquerque Academy, competes at the National Science Bowl for middle school students in Washington DC in 2010. In the push to improve climate change instruction, educators hope see a chance to improve science education overall. Photo by John Troha/National Science Bowl.

May 21, 2012

Innovative program bolsters climate science with the hope of improving overall scientific literacy in public schools

May 21: Climate science education graduates to next level
Sidebar: Conflicts abound in climate education
May 22: Digging into climate change, students find more than science

By Lisa Palmer
For the Daily Climate

Maryland has a history of integrating environmental science into public school curricula and recently became the first state in the nation to include environmental literacy as a graduation requirement. 

At the vanguard of climate science education, a pilot program brings researchers and teachers together in Maryland and Delaware.

A pilot teaching initiative with Delaware is pushing the state even further along the vanguard. The test program, one of 15 funded by the National Science Foundation, encourages teachers and scientists to collaborate in the classroom. It emphasizes local impacts – sea-level rise in the Chesapeake Bay, rising temperatures in urban areas, biodiversity of Maryland's crabs – to help students understand how climate change affects the rest of the world.

The program, dubbed "Maryland and Delaware Climate Change Education, Assessment and Research," or MADE-CLEAR, has gathered science educators and climate scientists together to identify classroom needs and connect those needs with the science. 

Climate scientists are finding relevant examples from peer-reviewed literature to help educators teach climate change more effectively. A unit on local climate impacts, for instance, would include the science on how Maryland's crabs will be affected by global warming and what that would mean for economic and policy planning. 

'See what works'

"We are not focusing on developing new materials," said Donald Boesch, director of MADE-CLEAR's research program. "We are trying to borrow best practices ... to see what works in our geography."

Other institutions are working to remedy the lack of teaching materials on the topic. Scientists at both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado developed the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network in 2010 to produce climate literacy materials for teachers. 

Ultimately, proponents say, MADE-CLEAR and other programs will bolster science literacy in schools and improve student understanding of some of the larger issues about climate change, such as public policy. The goal, they add, is for students to emerge with a better understanding of the science behind climate-related issues: Water resources, coastal vulnerability, human health, species migration, and farm and forest policies, among others. 

"Sociologically and economically, Maryland and Delaware have pretty much the full diversity of circumstances that relate to the rest of the nation," said Boesch. "We can learn about the opportunities and challenges in teaching each of those sectors and extrapolate to the rest of the nation about our experience."

© Lisa Palmer, 2012. All rights reserved.

Lisa Palmer is a freelance reporter in Maryland. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Nature Climate Change, Fortune, and The Yale Forum, among other outlets. is a foundation-funded news service that covers climate change.


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