Classroom climate: Gonzaga students ready for lessons in primary schools in Spokane

Environmental studies majors Jordan Cruz and Nina Berry are well aware that studying climate science involves complicated concepts and terminology.

Knowing this, the two are part of a group of Gonzaga University students tasked with teaching, and possibly improving, climate science education to children who may not even be still able to spell “concept” or “terminology”.

Cruz and Berry are part of Gonzaga’s Climate Literacy Fellows program, an initiative funded by donations and a $ 100,000 ClimeTime grant from the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Education. Through a partnership with Spokane Public Schools, Climate Fellows plan to visit grades two through five in the coming months to teach classes on climate change and renewable energy.

Specifically, Gonzaga’s students are focusing on schools in neighborhoods highlighted by the university’s Opportunity Northeast initiative, namely Title 1 schools such as Bemiss, Lidgerwood and Longfellow Elementary Schools, Brian Henning said. , director of the Gonzaga Climate, Society and Environment Center.

Incorporating kits with interactive devices such as solar-powered fans, buzzers, and battery chargers, lessons will revolve around concepts such as renewable and non-renewable energy, as well as the differences between weather and climate. , said Cruz, a junior. She said the Climate Fellows are also planning to give students take-home materials to reflect on and chat with their parents.

“I think what we’re really trying to do is not make our lessons an enemy,” said Cruz. “We don’t want to piss off or anger anyone because, for some, climate science can be a difficult subject.

“We just want it to be practical, because many of these elementary students will probably have to deal with climate change more than any other generation now.”

Berry said that when students teach students, it gives learners a different perspective with “a new face in the classroom to inspire different things.”

“It’s been a lot of work so I haven’t had a chance to step back and look at the full impact of this,” she said, “but I just hope that this program can continue. “

The lesson plans designed by Climate Fellows are not only about students who teach to students, but also to students who teach to teachers.

John Traynor, associate professor of teacher education, said the goal by April is to make a recommendation to the district on whether to purchase the kits so that teachers can apply the lessons themselves.

“Whatever activities you do, interactions with college and elementary students provide a really powerful opportunity to help students see a way in the future where they could achieve it as well,” a- he declared. “It makes him a little less mysterious and a little more real to them.”

Kelly Kielian, elementary school science coordinator for Spokane Public Schools, said weather classes typically start in kindergarten and extend from there. Grade 2 students dive into water erosion and human impacts on the environment, while climate and weather lessons continue through grade 3. The fourth year is when the program really shifts to renewable and non-renewable energy sources, she said.

“Renewable energy, we hope to bring more with these refresher courses, which is why we are very excited about this partnership and to be able to get involved in this project,” she said.

Kielian said the district has used similar engineering activities to deliver more in-depth climate-focused lessons. These activities include building solar shelters to “protect” animals made from ultraviolet beads, which change color in the sun.

“I think this is an opportunity for students, families and our educators to continue to learn these topics because these are things that students will see throughout their lives,” Kielian said. “By providing them with these learning opportunities and activities to start to consider all the ways that we impact the climate, the environment and the way society comes into play, I just think it’s really important. so that they can have a space at the table to be able to engage in these conversations and learn more.

The Climate Fellows program was launched at the start of the fall semester by the Gonzaga Center for Climate, Society and Environment, which was established last spring.

The Climate Fellows are led by Henning, Traynor and Karli Honebein, the Climate Center program coordinator. Traynor and Jaclyn Keller, a Masters of Education student, assisted fellows during the fall semester with developing lesson plans and preparing for their school appearances.

They also had to fine-tune the kits, as Gonzaga Sr. and Climate Fellow Emily Wright said some of the models didn’t match lesson plans, were too fragile, or required too many consumable parts.

Henning said the students worked to design courses aligned with the state’s K-12 learning standards, as well as the 5E teaching model. A phased approach to teaching, the five Es stand for engage, explore, explain, develop and evaluate.

“It’s easy to do something to be engaging,” Henning said, “but we want to show that it serves a cohesive curriculum, supports state goals, and helps students. to understand some key scientific concepts. “

The Climate Fellows program is exploring the possibility of funding grants to tailor climate science courses at the intermediate level, Traynor said.

“I know, walking away from that, I’ll be excited if I just meet a few students who are super excited about what we’re doing,” said Cruz. “I think that’s what’s worth it, even if it’s just a few.

“Knowing that there are a few students who can maybe ignite their passion by signing up for us, I think it will be super special… I hope that one day they can come and do a better job than us.”


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