Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Learning from the 2014 Nobel Prizes

Perhaps the Nobel Prizes recipients don’t make the same headlines as baseball’s World Series challengers, but every October the stories behind their work are just as exciting. These are discoveries, theories, works of art, and acts of humanity that have been years in the making. The work touches us in fundamental ways and constitutes the “shoulders of giants” referred to by Isaac Newton. If you don’t quite understand the laureates’ achievements, you can see the fundamental principles and related concepts at learner.org.

MathIllum_rockpaperscissors

Learn how game theory applies to “rock, paper, scissors” in Mathematics Illuminated.

Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economics

Jean Tirole, a French theoretical economist, won the award for analysis of market power and regulation. Tirole studied how to regulate industries with a few powerful firms, such as telecommunications firms. You can hear from Nobel committee chair Tore Ellingsen on the significance of Tirole’s work.

Tirole’s work was based on the mathematical concepts of game theory, which you can learn about in Mathematics Illuminated, unit 9.  The online text provides familiar examples, including zero sum games, and prisoner’s dilemma. Watch the video to see how game theory even applies to “rock, paper, scissors.”

Once you have a handle on game theory, see how government regulations have been applied to big players in the auto, energy, and airlines industries in Economics U$A, program 7, “Oligopolies.” This program looks at how big industries manage to write the rules of the marketplace.

Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology and Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Several of this year’s laureates followed the principle of thinking small. The medicine/physiology and chemistry prizes involve looking at objects down to the size of a single cell or molecule. The Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology was awarded to three researchers who found the brain’s mechanism for establishing our position in space, a mental GPS-like system. John O’Keefe found that we carry “space cells” in our brains and May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser expanded the concept to a grid in which these cells operate.  The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for work in microscopy allowing scientists to see down to this level at “super resolution.”

This level of microscopy has applications across all fields of science research. Wolfhard Almers at the Vollum Institute in Portland, OR explains how, using wave microscopy, he and his colleagues were able to isolate a single nerve cell to understand what it does after releasing a transmitter. His research is covered in Rediscovering Biology unit on Neurobiology.

“I still haven’t gotten over thinking it’s really cool, that I can go into work every day and take pictures of atoms and I can see individual atoms with this microscope,” says graduate student Tess Williams. The lab where she works at Harvard investigates the structure of superconducting materials. Find out more in Physics for the 21st Century unit “Macroscopic Quantum Mechanics.”

Nobel Prize in Physics

The three physicists who shared the Nobel Prize in physics gave new meaning to “keeping the lights on.” They invented a new energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source – the blue light-emitting diode (LED). In the LED, electricity is directly converted into light particles, photons, leading to efficiency gains compared to other light sources where most of the electricity is converted to heat and only a small amount into light. Explore the many facets of light and heat with your students in the workshop series Shedding Light on Science, especially unit 2, “Laws of Light.

Nobel Peace Prize

Indian and Pakistani activists Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai attracted the attention of the international community to the issue of child rights and shared the Nobel Peace Prize. From the earliest waves of immigration in the U.S., children have been used as workers and denied a formal education. Thomas Rivera wrote about his experience as a migrant child agricultural laborer in the memoir, “And the Earth Did Not Devour Him/Y la Tierra no se traiga.” Read about Rivera’s background in American Passages, unit 12, “Migrant Struggle.” His translator, Evangelina Vigil-Piñón discusses Rivera’s work and its place in Chicano literature in the Learner Express: Language Arts modules.

Learner-Featured Scientist Pardis Sabeti Leads Ebola Research

Pardis Sabeti

Pardis Sabeti

Since medical professionals in Dallas diagnosed the first case of Ebola on U.S. soil on September 30, 2014, much of the news surrounding the science of the issue has focused on containment, quarantines, and potential treatments involving plasma transfusions. To a certain extent, sensational media coverage has dominated and created the fear of a potential Ebola outbreak in America.

The reality is that the threat of contracting Ebola in the U.S. is “exceedingly uncommon,” according to the CDC. However, the ability of the deadly virus to adapt and mutate is relevant to everyone on the planet, regardless of location. Fortunately, scientists are now tracking the genome of Ebola in order to understand its mutation and fight the virus.

After learning that Ebola had reached Sierra Leone, Dr. Pardis Sabeti, host of Annenberg Learner’s Against All Odds: Inside Statistics and computational geneticist at the Broad Institute and Harvard University, led an international team to better understand the 2014 outbreak, which is the largest in history. Sabeti has been studying the Ebola virus for the past five years. In early summer 2014, Sabeti and her colleagues collected virus samples from 78 patients in Sierra Leone in order to sequence the viral genome using the million-dollar DNA-sequencing machines housed at the Broad Institute. Their research, published in early September, found 50 mutations that arose as the virus spread in the early weeks of the epidemic. The study, which includes five authors who have since died of Ebola, stresses the importance of “genomic surveillance” in developing vaccines and therapies for this particular variation of the disease, which researchers believe originated around 2004 in central Africa before moving from Guinea to Sierra Leone in May 2014, all by human-to-human transmission.

Sabeti will be able to sequence more recent samples of Ebola once a thousand more vials of diseased blood, currently stored in freezers in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, are transferred to Harvard.

To help explain this type of genomics research to your students, Against All Odds: Inside Statistics, unit 29, details how statistics aided researchers in uncovering how a harmful genetic mutation, sickle cell anemia, actually acts as a source of resistance to Malaria. In addition, the video discusses how Sabeti used the Malaria study as a model in her research on the genetic sources in an individual’s resistance to Lassa fever, a virus that is similar to, yet less notorious than Ebola, and which kills thousands of people in West Africa every year.

In the Against All Odds video, Sabeti notes that thousands of people are exposed to Lassa but do not become ill, suggesting they may have some sort of genetic resistance to the infectious disease. Sabeti and her fellow researchers want to find what these protective mutations against Lassa fever are in order to develop new treatments.

Eric Lander is the head of the Broad Institute and is featured in Rediscovering Biology, unit 1, “Genomics.” In a recent New Yorker article, Lander responds to the question of whether or not Ebola will evolve into an airborne disease, saying, “That’s like asking the question ‘Can zebras become airborne.’” Lander points out that Ebola is very unlikely to evolve from a disease that is spread through direct contact to one that can survive in a dehydrated state and spread through the air. He does note, however, that Ebola could possibly become more contagious.

In Against All Odds, Sabeti describes the battle between human beings and disease as “The non-stop, evolutionary arms race between our bodies and the infectious micro-organisms that try to invade and inhabit them.” The relatively new technology of genome sequencing gives humans another powerful weapon in the fight against viruses like Ebola.

Prevention Month Recruits Parents, Students, and Teachers to End Bullying

antibullying pic_SPcreatedPSFor children and adolescents across America, October is usually a festive time of year, associated with costumes, candy, haunted houses, and corn mazes. Since 2006, though, October also marks National Bullying Prevention Month, an awareness campaign started by the PACER Center. Rejecting the idea that bullying is simply a normal part of childhood, PACER initially developed a bullying awareness week that would take place every October. National Bullying Prevention Week grew into an entire month in 2010.

The theme for 2014’s National Bullying Prevention Month is “The End of Bullying Begins with Me.” Already this year, students across the country have celebrated by participating in anti-bullying 5K runs, wearing blue for the World Day of Bullying Prevention, and signing online petitions. In the last week of October, students have the opportunity to combine Halloween with bullying prevention. While trick-or-treating, participating children and teens can hand out cards to the neighbors and community members, encouraging them to sign an online bullying prevention pledge.

This year’s awareness month also has special significant since, in January 2014, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created the first federal uniform definition of bullying. The definition was developed in order to aid in the research and monitoring of bullying – specifically its effects and prevalence, determining who is at risk, and, most importantly, what can be done to prevent it.

The official definition from the government agency marks another departure from viewing bullying as a harmless rite of passage. It is increasingly considered a public health threat.

Between one in four and one in three students say they have been bullied. These are alarming statistics since the effects of bullying can include decreased academic performance, lower scores on standardized tests, and struggles with depression and anxiety that continue into adulthood. Connections between bullying and suicide, however, are often oversimplified. It’s important to know that no direct cause and effect relationship has been established between bullying and suicidal behavior

To prevent bullying in their classroom, teachers may benefit from understanding how a student’s emotional state affects his or her ability to learn and function in school. Neuroscience & the Classroom, unit 2, discusses how, even without bullying, children and adolescents have trouble understanding their emotions and the emotions of others. They can be easily swept away by negative emotions, and the result is that students may not be able to motivate themselves or engage in meaningful learning.

While the science behind bullying prevention has uncovered many useful facts and statistics, researchers have yet to identify the best way to prevent bullying. However, most agree that prevention and awareness require a community effort.

For parents and teachers, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created the KnowBullying mobile app, which has specific resources for educators, information about warning signs, and even a feature that reminds adults that it is time to talk to their children or students about bullying.

While dedicating a month to prevention of the epidemic of bullying is admirable, awareness needs to be a priority the entire year.

Share the ways in which you raise awareness for bullying prevention among your students in the comments section below.

How can schools prepare for discussions of controversial issues? (Part II)

MCR D7 TalkOn Monday, we looked at the reasons why schools should allow discussions of controversial issues. See Part I. Now let’s address the how.

What can school leaders do? Schools could preemptively address parental and other concerns by preparing teachers through professional development and appropriate planning. The following are just a few ideas to consider so that current news events may enrich instead of derail curriculum plans.

1. Set up the school-wide goals. What do you want students to gain from the experience? Will they learn to think objectively? Discuss difficult topics while respecting each other? Examine historical influences on current events? Collect facts and differentiate between credible resources and voices that are just stoking a fire? Brainstorm ways they can work towards a solution for the community?

2. Discuss appropriate approaches for these conversations. Meet with teachers early in the school year and determine procedures and guidelines. For example, not everyone will agree that opinions need to be left out of the conversation, but we are human and we arrive to the discussion table full of opinions, preconceptions, and biases. What are appropriate ways to deal with the whole human package that the school and parents would be comfortable with?

3. Determine which professionals in the school would be best to handle discussions. Do students have advisers or a school counselor that they can talk to? Are there teachers in the building who are willing to tackle issues with their students and who have expertise they could share with the group? Social studies and literature teachers could offer natural safe spaces for students to work on issues.

4. Designate a liaison between the school and the parents and guardians. This person, whether an administrator, teacher, or parent volunteer, can provide parents with information and field questions and concerns. Consider developing guidelines for how administrators and teachers will handle any challenges to or concerns about the classroom discussions.

5. Respect an individual’s preference to sit out of the conversation. Not every teacher will be comfortable talking about difficult issues with their students, and that’s valid. Some teachers might recognize that they have a bias due to personal experience or just might not feel comfortable leading a discussion safely. What resources can these teachers direct students towards when questions occur?

What can individual teachers do? At the individual teacher level, here are some ideas for guiding students in respectful conversations about controversial topics and what it means to be a part of a community. (These videos below could also be used for professional development on this topic.)

1. Develop students’ understanding of multiple points of view. For example, teacher Wendy Eubank’s students simulate a town hall meeting, role playing characters that have a stake in an outcome, so they can learn to express their ideas freely. Students have researched facts from multiple sources and are asked to consider multiple viewpoints. Watch Social Studies in Action, program 31, “Dealing with Controversial Issues,” to see this and other examples of activities at varying grade levels.

2. Structure discussions to allow every student a chance to share, listen, and evolve. For example, JoEllen Ambrose does a fantastic job leading students through a discussion about individual rights versus public safety related to news topics students are already familiar with. She asks for students to respond to questions physically and verbally, by grouping themselves by agreement and providing personal examples to support their opinions. Watch students specifically discuss their ideas about police power and individual rights, especially related to racial profiling. See workshop 7, “Controversial Public Policy Issues,” of Making Civics Real.

3. Empower students to act as a member of a community. In the introductory video for Teaching ‘The Children of Willesden Lane,’ Martina Grant’s students discuss their “universe of obligation;” reasons why people choose to act and not to act during times of crisis; and how history is connected to their own lives and experiences. Once we understand why individuals or communities fail to act during a time of crisis, we can work together to propose possible solutions or realistic ways people can act.

News comes and goes as one event overshadows another. Underlying themes and issues persist, and teaching students how to discuss these themes and work together to build a stronger community that can problem-solve should be an important goal of any school. Meanwhile, the beauty of the internet is that resources we often need are a click away. Please share more links and ideas that you find helpful on this topic in the comments. I started a list here.

Here are some links to some additional resources:
Discussing Controversial Public Issues in the Classroom, via TeachingHistory.org
Michael Brown, via Facing History.org
Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply, via Edutopia

Should schools allow discussions of controversial issues? (Part I)

MakingCivicsReal_7[OP-ED] On Saturday, August 9 in Ferguson, Mo., a police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, a young black man, sparking protests in the town and discussions about race and history across the United States. On August 21, Ed Week reported that the superintendent of a nearby school district banned the discussion of the events in Ferguson, Mo. in schools, because “parents complained … that some teachers were interjecting their own opinions into class discussions rather than objectively guiding discussion for students.”

While it’s true that discussions about emotionally charged or controversial issues must be handled carefully in the classroom, what message do teachers send when they have to tell their students, “We are not allowed to talk about that here?” And while parents certainly have a right to be concerned about how teachers will address difficult topics in their classrooms, silencing the discussion all together is not an answer. The ability to discuss public controversy is a sign of a healthy democracy and a right we can share with our students. Preparing a plan for discussing national news events as they occur could help avoid the “shut it down” effect, which cuts off golden learning opportunities to build better thinkers and stronger communities.

School is most likely one of the best places to address controversial news topics, and there are several benefits to providing students a forum to express themselves. (Similar discussions already occur in literature and social studies lessons as students read and talk about literary works and historical themes.)

First, students are already talking about events as they occur, so they will be easily engaged and invested in learning experiences tied to these topics. In the classroom, teachers, as objective moderators, are able to guide students in thoughtful discussions in a safe space.

Second, controversial issues offer teachers an opportunity to develop students’ critical thinking and analytical skills, goals of the Common Core Standards. For example, they may examine the role that emotions and personal biases play in how people initially react to a national news event like Brown’s death and the resulting protests and police response. With appropriate activities, students learn to review available information, evaluate sources, consider multiple perspectives, and propose solutions.

In addition, allowing students and teachers to talk about timely events and controversial issues creates a sense of community and empowers students to take productive actions to correct wrongs within the school, city, even nation or world.

Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments and look for Part II on Wednesday: How can schools prepare for controversial discussions?

(The views expressed by the authors of Learner Log blog posts are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or endorsement of Annenberg Learner or the Annenberg Foundation.)

Inspiring Women in Mathematics

Courtesy: Maryam Mirzakhani Professor Maryam Mirzakhani is the recipient of the 2014 Fields Medal, the top honor in mathematics. She is the first woman in the prize’s 80-year history to earn the distinction. The Fields Medal is awarded every four years on the occasion of the International Congress of Mathematicians to recognize outstanding mathematical achievement for existing work and for the promise of future achievement.

Photo Courtesy: Maryam Mirzakhani, Professor Maryam Mirzakhani is the recipient of the 2014 Fields Medal, the top honor in mathematics. She is the first woman in the prize’s 80-year history to earn the distinction.

Maryam Mirzakhani of Stanford University made history earlier this month, becoming the first woman to win the Fields Medal in the 78-year history of the award. The honor, bestowed every four years to two to four mathematics researchers under the age of 40, is often thought of as the Nobel Prize for math.

According to the International Mathematical Union, the 37-year-old, Iranian-born Mirzakhani won “for her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.”

Mirzakhani realizes that her unprecedented achievement transcends mathematics research. “This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani, quoted by Stanford News, said. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”

Even though, according to a 2013 National Science Foundation report, female students take precalculus/analysis and algebra II at higher rates than male students during their K-12 education, they lose that ground during their undergraduate education, earning only 43.1 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and statistics. These disparities become even greater when students’ racial and socioeconomic statuses are taken into account.

Mirzakhani’s accomplishment is good news for educators, providing them with an example of a mathematics trailblazer to inspire students from underrepresented groups. While she is the latest to break through a long-preserved mathematics glass ceiling, Mirzakhani certainly is not the first.

Nergis Mavalvala

Nergis Mavalvala

One of the women benefitting from Mirzakhani’s work is MacArthur Prize winner and physicist Dr. Nergis Mavalvala of MIT. She and her team design experiments to detect ripples in the fabric of space-time known as gravitational waves. See her in Physics for the 21st Century, “Gravity.”

Sophie Germain

Sophie Germain

Sophie Germain (1776-1831) didn’t let the École Polytechnique’s policy against admitting women stop her from pursuing an education. Though she began her educational career submitting papers under the false name Monsieur Antoine-August Le Blanc, Germain gained the esteem and mentorship of prominent mathematicians and became well known for her work in elasticity theory and number theory. In number theory, a prime number (p) is a Sophie Germain prime if 2p + 1 is also prime. Explore the basics of prime numbers and number theory in Learning Math, session 6, “Number Theory.”

While the name Albert Einstein is synonymous with mathematical genius, fewer people have heard of Emmy Noether, a mathematician whom Einstein himself once called “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

Emmy Noether

Emmy Noether

Like many historic female mathematicians, Noether encountered unjust obstacles throughout her distinguished career. The University of Erlangen in Bavaria, Germany prevented her from fully participating in classes, allowing her to audit them instead. Despite her brilliance and the respect she garnered from her contemporaries, Noether spent years teaching without pay.

While Noether was widely recognized for her accomplishments by the early 1930s, in 1933 Germany’s Nazi government forced all Jews out of all government positions. Noether fled Germany for the safety of the United States and a position at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, though she died just two years later at the age of 53.

Mathematics Illuminated, unit 6, “The Beauty of Symmetry,” discusses Noether’s eponymous theorem as well as her contributions to algebra and physics.

Dorothy Wallace, a content advisor for Mathematics Illuminated (units 6 and 10) and professor at Dartmouth College, is an accomplished mathematician and educator. Dr. Wallace contributed to the Mathematics Across the Curriculum project. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, MATC aims to integrate math throughout the undergraduate curriculum using interdisciplinary courses and materials. Her writing and editing credits include Numeracy!, the ejournal of the National Numeracy Network and The Bell that Rings Light (World Scientific Press).

Another branch of mathematics, statistics, is used by computational geneticist Dr. Pardis Sabeti at Harvard. She has developed algorithms to detect the genetic signatures of adaptation in humans and microbial organisms. Learn about her work with West Africans who are vulnerable to deadly Lassa fever in Against All Odds: Inside Statistics, “Inference for Two-Way Tables.”

Pardis Sabeti

Pardis Sabeti

From the ancient Greek philosopher Hypatia to Mirzakhani, there are many historical and contemporary examples of women in mathematics to encourage female students interested in pursuing a career in the field.

Add to this list in the comments below.

The Smoking Gun of Cosmic Inflation

Physics_cosmic inflationYoung Alvy Singer got it partially right.The main character in the Woody Allen film Annie Hall explained why he gave up doing his homework: “Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything!”

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics recently announced that the BICEP2 collaboration (its research partnership with Caltech/JPL, Stanford/SLAC, and UMinn) had observable evidence to prove how this expansion got started from the point of the Big Bang: through cosmic inflation.  “These results are not only a smoking gun for inflation, they also tell us when inflation took place and how powerful the process was,” said Harvard theorist Avi Loeb. Physics for the 21st Century at Learner.org provides explanatory text, images, and video to help you make sense of the discovery and the theories that led to it.

Start by looking at the text for unit 4 on String Theory to understand how cosmic inflation is responsible for the structure of the universe as it is today.

Short of running backwards the movie of all time, the Cosmic Microwave Background, or CMB, is the best link to the first moments of the development of matter. The CMB is the detection of the relic gas radiating from the Big Bang. Astrophysicists also have been able to find in their data the finger prints of gravitational waves, which are described as ripples in space-time. Dr. Nergis Mavalvala of MIT explains the relation of gravitational waves to today’s astronomy. Watch the segment of the video Gravity, beginning at 14:30 through 16:21, to learn about how these waves are propagated.

The final unit looks in on the work of two astrophysicists, Robert Kirshner and David Spergel, both trying to determine the cause of the acceleration of the expansion of the universe and whether there may be an end to it. Their chief suspect is Dark Energy. Their research may assuage Alvy Singer’s concern about the universe ultimately breaking apart.

A Teachable Moment: Returning Sacred Artifacts to Their Owners

Pomo basket_AFAnnenberg Foundation trustee Gregory Annenberg Weingarten has purchased sacred artifacts to return them to their Native American owners. Twenty-one of these items will be returned to the Hopi Nation in Arizona, and three artifacts belonging to the San Carlos Apache will be returned to the Apache tribe. Laurel Morales of Fronteras reports that “The Hopi call the ceremonial items friends and believe them to be living spirits.”

For a perspective of the importance of ceremonial items to the tribes they belong to, look to two resources from Annenberg Learner—the educational media arm of the Annenberg Foundation—that describe the ceremonial and cultural significance of native artifacts.

In session 8, “Ceremonial Artifacts,” of the workshop series Artifacts & Fiction, teachers pair religious items with literary texts when teaching students about different cultures and how those cultures change over time. See how two intellectual products produced by members of different Native American tribes—two Pomo Indian gift baskets and Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony—are used to help students better understand the beliefs and values of two distinct Native American cultures.

The worldwide art history series, Art through Time, unit 4, “Ceremony and Society,” features an installation of religious items created by members of the Skokomish Indian Nation to conduct a soul recovery ceremony. An explanation of the ceremony and items used begins at 20:00 in the video. Use this video as a point of discussion with students about the importance of preserving these artifacts and how nations use the items for healing, teaching, and reconnecting with their communities.

Ways to teach about climate change (Part II of II)

HP_surface air increase(See Part I: Why should schools teach about climate change? here.) Teaching about climate change can be daunting: the science is complex, multi-disciplinary, and evolving quickly. But many key ideas about how Earth’s climate system works can be used to illustrate basic ideas in biology, chemistry, and physics.

For example, when biology students study how organisms adapt to their environments, teachers can introduce the idea that climate change is shifting many species’ ranges and altering the timing of seasonal events, such as the first flowering of plants in spring. When students study the carbon cycle in chemistry or earth science, teachers can point out that human activities are adding carbon to the atmosphere, and discuss how Earth’s atmosphere and oceans act as “sinks” for carbon.

What should students know about climate science? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), America’s weather and climate agency, suggests that a climate-literate person:

  • Understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system,
  • Knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate,
  • Communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way, and
  • Is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.

NOAA’s Climate.gov library breaks climate science literacy down into key principles – how energy flows from the sun to Earth, the interactions among Earth’s systems that regulate climate, factors that make climate variable, and the impacts of human actions. The site also offers visuals, videos, experiments demonstrating key concepts, and interactive tools.

Many climate change concepts can be explored through projects, which give students opportunities to apply ideas – and often, to see the impacts of their personal choices. Clarkson University worked with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to develop ten project-based climate modules on topics ranging from the greenhouse effect to the climate impact of a “dream vacation.” Lessons target grades 6-8 but can be adapted for other levels.

School groups can also join ongoing citizen science projects across the United States, many of which focus on climate-related events. Three national examples:

  • Journey North, from Annenberg Learner, is a free program that uses observations from students and citizen scientists to track wildlife migration and seasonal change. Teachers can use Journey North to help students learn which indicators of changing seasons are unaffected by climate change (such as the length of daylight at a given time of year) and which are impacted (such as the first arrival of migratory birds in spring).
  • Project Budburst, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, tracks how plant species are responding to local, regional, and national climate changes. Participants submit ongoing or one-time reports on specific plants. The project offers classroom resources for grades K-12.
  • Project FeederWatch, run by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, is a project that surveys bird populations in back yards, parks, and nature centers across North America from November through April. Researchers use the data to track changes in bird species’ winter abundance and distribution.

The Habitable Planet series from Annenberg Learner also provides tools to teach about climate change. The series, presented in videos and an online textbook, explains fundamental environmental science concepts that support an understanding of climate change. Key units include “Atmosphere,” which describes Earth’s energy balance and the role of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; “Oceans,” which shows the important role that oceans play in absorbing carbon; and “Energy Challenges,” which explains how fossil fuels were created and describes the pros and cons of these and other energy sources. “Earth’s Changing Climate” ties these issues together to show how greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are altering Earth’s energy balance. (Note: for the most current international assessment of climate change science and impacts, see post here from October 30.)

Why should schools teach about climate change? (Part I of II)

EarthAs new findings about global climate change make news, some science teachers are caught between a rock and a hard place. Hundreds of scientists who contributed to the most recent international assessment of climate change science say they are 95 percent certain that human activities are the cause of global warming in recent decades. That’s the same level of confidence experts have that smoking cigarettes causes cancer.

But over the past five years, more than a dozen bills have been introduced at the state level that would allow teachers to present material challenging that scientific consensus. Recent reports* have spotlighted a textbook review panel in Texas, which includes several members who have questioned evolution and climate change science, and is scheduled to vote this month on an approved list of biology textbooks. (Publishers have not altered texts in response to comments from these reviewers.)

The Next Generation Science Standards offer a counterpoint. The standards recommend introducing students to global climate change in middle school as students learn about weather and climate. High school students are expected to learn about using models to understand Earth’s climate system, and to make evidence-based forecasts of the current rate of global climate change and associated impacts.

The high school standards also link global climate change to human sustainability. Students who understand these concepts should be able to explain how human activities are affecting relationships among Earth systems, such as the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere, and to think critically about solutions that could reduce human impacts on natural systems.

Twenty-six states helped develop the standards, and eight states have already adopted them: California, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, Delaware, and Washington. Kentucky’s Gov. Steve Beshear overruled a legislative subcommittee that voted against adopting the standards, which had already been endorsed by the state Department of Education and Board of Education. “My job . . . is to make sure our children are college and career ready when they leave high school. Part of getting them college and career ready is to make sure they study all the different scientific theories [that] are out there that everybody else in the world will be studying,” Beshear said.

By emphasizing critical thinking and investigation, the Next Generation standards are designed to help students understand how scientists develop and test ideas, and to think across disciplines. Climate change is a topic that is well suited to this approach. It draws on multiple fields of science: for example, we need some basic physics to understand atmospheric circulation, while ocean acidification is a chemical process. And scientific understanding of climate science and climate change impacts is evolving in real time today, as researchers test theories and refine models that help us understand past climate shifts and predict what may happen in coming decades.

*Post update: On November 22, 2013, the New York Times published a new piece on the ongoing controversial textbook process in Texas. See the article here.

(Stay tuned next Wednesday, November 20, for Part II: Ways to teach about climate change.)