Tag Archives: environmental education

chimps & change & roots & shoots

This weekend I was in the presence of a living legend – Dr. Jane Goodall. My aunt sits on the board of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), so the family had the privilege not only of sitting in the second row at her Convocation Hall lecture on Friday night, but also of spending an afternoon with her at an intimate event at my grandparents’ home. I even had an opportunity to ask her a question – I asked about her choice of words – she always speaks of animals using the words “personality, mind and feelings.” I wondered about her conscious use of these three terms, and she answered that they are her way of pointing out the arrogance of humanity, her way of fighting against what the scientific establishment told her was wrong (use numbers not names for the chimpanzees, don’t attribute “human” emotions to these beasts, etc.).

What amazed me the most about Dr. Jane is how present she is, how she looks every person in the eye and answers their questions – particularly the questions asked by children in the audience – with sincerity and patience. Despite traveling 300 days a year, she never seems distracted or too busy to share a moment. This presence is something I will try to emulate in my interactions with my students.

Another thing I want to do as a teacher is start a Roots & Shoots chapter wherever I end up working next year. Here’s a cute video from explaining what Roots & Shoots does around the world, made by students who are part of a Roots & Shoots group in Delaware.

Last week the Huffington Post had a good interview with Dr. Jane.

I grabbed an autographed copy of her book, Harvest for Hope. Looking forward to reading what the good doctor has to say about food.

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copenhagen for kids (take 2)

In a previous post, I promised more on addressing the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in Canadian classrooms. There are so many great environmental education resources out there, I admit I was overwhelmed when I began researching this topic. I have listed and linked to a few of these resources below.

I did, however, also notice that there is not as much critical pedagogy addressing environmental justice as I would have hoped or expected. The field of climate justice (that is, the interconnectedness between social justice and environmental issues) has gained strength and attracted attention in over the last couple of months. One of my classmates at OISE suggested that the galvanization and increased recognition of the climate justice movement is perhaps one of the few positive results of the COP15 conference!

Here is the handout that I gave (digitally…no trees were harmed!) to my class for today’s presentation:

Copenhagen (COP15) in the Classroom

Climate change is an issue that many kids are already aware of, and they care deeply about making the world a cleaner and safer place for their future. But how do we guide students through some of the murkier ‘tar-sands of the mind’ – that is, the economic and political realities – that have bogged down their elders at the Copenhagen conference?

The recent United Nations Climate Change Conference is widely viewed as an outright disaster. Amidst the delays due to procedural objections, arrests by Danish riot police, hoaxes, walkouts, and exclusion of developing countries from inner circle negotiations, it is difficult to find the positive in the COP15 Conference. The talks failed to produce a legally binding agreement, the tentative accord was unambitious and the summit was plagued by economic and political inequities.

As educators, we struggle to find a balance between teaching students about the complex, unpalatable realities of controversial world issues and inspiring a sense of hope and possibility in our students. For Canadian students in particular, COP15 served to make us aware that we are among the worst climate offenders. The “Fossil of the Day” podium is a difficult position from which to inspire hope in young people struggling to define their civic identities.

Key Questions & Issues:

  • How can Canadian educators teach critically about COP15 without creating a sense of cynicism?
  • How were youth and schools involved in the COP15 conference?
  • What are some strategies for empowering youth to take action on climate change?


Components of a critical pedagogy for addressing Copenhagen & climate change

  • Highlight ways that environmental issues are framed, critique the discourse surrounding climate change and other environmental issues
  • Students must examine the broader context of climate change and environmental issues, connecting social justice and eco-justice. The most economically exploited and socially powerless groups are often the most vulnerable to environmental hazards. Some topics to address within this area:
    • Regarding Copenhagen – which countries had more say and why?
    • Social issues around food security, fair trade, monoculture, organic farming etc.
    • Land use, manufacturing and imperialism
    • Mobility in the face of threatening environments (i.e. Small island states, low-income housing near factories & hazardous waste sites)
    • Indigenous cultures and environmental practices
    • Access to green space and relationship with the natural world
  • Motivate students to make responsible decisions about their environmental footprint
  • Students engage in a deep and critical examination of their own situatedness – the intersections of cultural, economic, and environmental factors.
  • Confront unsettling information and allow for discussion and debate
  • Present multiple perspectives and allow students to decide which rings true to their values and experiences
  • Connect issues to action – empower students to use their power to bring about positive change

Youth and School Involvement at COP15

Inspiring Climate Education Conference (www.ice2009.org)

  • Organized by the Danish Minsitry of Education in October, 2009. Attended by 120 education stakeholders from 35 countries (none from Canada).
  • Included speakers from education and industry, workshops on climate education in various settings, interdisciplinary cooperation, partnerships between schools and businesses,
  • Climate Change Education international weblog highlights education and youth related issues surrounding COP15
  • The TeachersCOP website includes lesson plans on climate issues. Two particularly interesting lesson plans for secondary students are “Climate in the Media” and “COP15 – The Political Dimension”


Children’s Climate Forum

  • Organized by UNICEF and the City of Copenhagen, took place the week before the grown-ups’ conference and brought together 160 youth delegates from 40 countries.
  • Delegates wrote a Children’s Climate Forum Declaration holding governments accountable and making recommendations for adaptation and mitigation. The Declaration includes a recommendation that “Climate change education should be a mandatory and substantial area of the school curriculum.


Unite for Climate (www.uniteforclimate.org)

  • Online hub for youth, part of the UN’s official COP15 page, provides opportunities for kids to network and learn about climate change through youth targeted media and resources
  • Hosts links to a number of grassroots campaigns organized for and by young people around the world
  • Publishes news about youth involvement at the conference – profiles of the young Climate Ambassadors, highlights of student participation on panels etc.
  • Interactive – i.e. youth can respond to a climate related question via SMS.
  • Youth Climate Debates where students can upload yes or no statements in response to climate questions like “do you think your political leaders are doing enough for the environment?”


Connecting Classrooms

  • Online curriculum pairs classes from around the world and allows them to dialogue, debate, and work collaboratively to analyze and problem-solve around global issues.
  • The current module focuses on climate change and the COP15 conference.
  • To take part in Connecting Classrooms, all you need is a secondary school classroom supervised by a designated teacher, internet access, and a one hour per week time commitment.

Additional Climate Change Education Resources

EarthCARE is an action-oriented in-school program, currently operating in several Ontario boards. It promotes environmental stewardship by having students learn about waste, energy and water use in their own schools, and involves the school community in retrofitting school buildings and promoting conservationist behaviour.  The site also has a resource section with lesson plans that meet Ontario curriculum expectations.

Environment Canada has grade and subject specific lesson plans and resources for educators, as well as a speaker’s bureau, official publications. The EC youth site includes a footprint calculator, nationwide contests, tips on getting funding for environmental initiatives and “Homework Help” resources.

The New York Times has a list of teaching resources related to COP15 on their ‘The Learning Network’ blog. The Times also has an interactive climate change timeline beginning in 1820.

Climate Change Education is a portal site that gathers internet resources for K-12 and university level environmental education. It’s an ugly site but there are lots of good resources from different sources divided by subject and grade level.

NASA’s climate change website includes the Climate Time Machine with slick graphics showing climate change over time. Similarly, Eduspace is an earth observation site designed for use in schools by the European Space Agency and its partner organizations. The tools on this site allow students to view the world through detailed satellite images, including sections dedicated to monitoring natural disasters, observing patterns and changes in weather cycles, oceanography, land use, and atmospheric gases.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s glossary of terms and acronyms can be used to help students interpret the language of the accord and appreciate how negotiations can hinge on seemingly insignificant linguistic subtleties. The UNFCCC also has fact sheets online  that break down some of the main issues into manageable pieces.

World Savvy Monitor (www.worldsavvy.org) is an American non-profit that to provides background resources, curricular context, and lesson ideas for educators teaching about global issues. Their monthly online publication includes a Classroom Companion, which gives teachers cross-disciplinary tools for integrating global affairs into curriculum. The November 2009 issue is about water.

David Suzuki Foundation (www.davidsuzuki.org) has a list of things individuals can do to help slow climate change, through avenues including lifestyle modification, activism, education, philanthropy, and advocacy.