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From Copenhagen to the Classroom
The U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen
has come and gone with only a modest agreement among
nations to work towards a reduction of greenhouse
gases. No new treaty or firm agreement has come from
the conference. Yet, all the participating nations seem in
agreement that the issue of global warming is real, it is
the result of human actions, and that it needs attention.
While all of this may seem obvious to many educators,
it does represent progress in international terms.
So what is the meaning of the conference—and of
climate change—in the classroom? Are there new ideas
to teach and ways to promote problem solving and
inquiry? Connect authors have been writing about this
issue for several years and we hope to hear from more of
Writing for Connect (21:2, 1–2) from a school on the
northwest coast of Alaska in 2007, teacher Ken Stenek
stated that for students, “I don’t believe there’s an age
Unite for Climate is a Web site supported by UNICEF and many
that they’re too young to study climate change.” Using
partners worldwide as one source of teaching and learning ideas
regarding climate change.
transformation of energy as a topic, Stenek has middle
school students measure temperature changes in a can
or natural ice that could lead to greater understanding.
painted black and one with a silver color. We all can guess
(Search the Connect archives for more ideas.)
the result, but then he adds the comparison of heating
of soils and of water, showing that the darker surfaces
absorb heat faster. Then Ken Stenek helps his students
There is no conclusion
to discover that snow and ice are highly reflective, and
that sunlight causes limited warming when hitting
This challenge will grow and become more complicated
these surfaces. That the snow and ice are less prevalent
over the coming decades. Some problems will be solved
is already clear to his students and their families whose
while others will develop and need the attention of
houses are subjected to intense beach erosion because of
experts and of all of us. But who will the experts be?
decreasing sea ice and the loss of permafrost.
Some will come from your classrooms, along with
Writing from St. Louis, author Bob Coulter points to
students who are passing through schools all over the
the complexity of climate change and the risk of leaving
world. The old truism that the experts and problem
younger students feeling hopeless, or at least confused
solvers of the future are in school today takes on a new
by things like a one or two degree change in the overall
meaning in the face of climate change. Students learn
climate. He suggests that students explore variability
early that math, science, and technology are tools for
and change in a variety of settings that are easier to
their hands and minds, or subjects beyond their skills or
comprehend. Coulter writes, “. . . What I am proposing
here is a dual-use pedagogy: useful for students now and
As educators, we need to ensure that our students of
for building future capacity.” (21:2, 22)
all ages are engaged in using problem solving skills to
As far back as 1995, Connect urged educators to address
explore the world around them, knowing ourselves that
climate change and related topics in age-appropriate
this work today may become a resource for all of us in
ways. In 2005 we suggested in-class studies of artificial
the future.
Synergy Learning
internationaL, inc.

Volume 23 • Issue 3
January • February 2010
PO Box 60, Brattleboro, VT 05302
Innovations in K–8 Science, Math, and Technology
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