Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Climate Lessons

Climate Lessons (140)

Climate Lessons provides tools, resources and reflections on climate change education for educators and communicators of climate change. This blog is posted to weekly with an educator audience in mind.

When does fall begin at the Will Steger Foundation?  When the Summer Institute for Climate Change Education is complete!  Thank you to all of our fantastic participants and partners.  See photos, dowload presentations and read more about this professional development event at Fort Snelling State Park on our Recap Webpage here.  We're already planning for 2014 - stay tuned for registration this October.

It's been a great summer so far. We're in between a successful Summer Institute in June (see more photos on Facebook!) and another exciting Institute this August. Both events have filled up and are unique from any of our past trainings in terms of their location and content.

Tim Chase teaches science to middle school students at Murray Junior High in Saint Paul, MN.  This is his story about teaching the class of his dreams: an urban environmental sciences class at a local outdoor classroom.  He used the Will Steger Foundation's Minnesota's Changing Climate curriculum and online classroom to help make his dream come true.

Over a year ago I was asked a question that had never been asked before and I feared it would never be asked again.  It was “What would be your dream class to teach?”  I was given an opportunity and I have never looked back.  I needed to find the best tools and resources, found my target audience (achievement gap) and started my dream.

50 years ago, the first atmospheric CO2 data taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii measured 315 ppm. Two weeks ago, the observatory made an announcement: we had nearly averaged 400ppm for one consecutive month . The last time that atmospheric CO2 concentrations reached 400ppm was more than 2 million years ago in the Pliocene era. During that period, sea levels were 50-80 feet higher and forests grew on Ellesmere Island (seriously).

"Everything is Okay.  Humanity, Working Together, Solved Climate Change."

That's what the newspaper should have read this April when Dr. James Hansen announced his retirement.  It would be written about our greatest success story as a civilization, and the last paragraph would be a quiet "thank you" to Dr. Hansen for making it all possible.  Yes, if James Hansen had HIS way, that's exactly it: his life's work fulfilled.

The Next Generation Science Standards(NGSS) were released this week, including for the first time climate change as a concept deemed integral to K-12 science education.

The Will Steger Foundation was proud to support Minnesota's Green Ribbon Schools selection process and would like to congratulate this year's U.S. Deparment of Education's Green Ribbon Schools program finalists!

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Keynotes Announced for Summer Institue for Energy Education!

Our founder and acclaimed polar explorer, Will Steger will be delivering an intimate keynote forum at Summer Institute for Energy Education accompanied by J. Drake Hamilton of Fresh Energy.  The keynote event will follow a light social hour with food and drinks.  Register today for the Institute.

"If you're not [alarmed about climate change] talk with my good friend and world-premier polar explorer, Will Steger, who is here tonight, about the drastic climate changes he has witnessed …" - Gov. Mark Dayton during 2013 State of the State Address, 2/7/2013 (transcript)

will speakingIn his speech, Governor Dayton has stepped out as a leading voice among Governors on clean energy and climate change solutions.  (If you are looking for other energy champions, check out the Energy All Stars YouTube playlist by the EPA.)

You and your students can join the action.  One easy way is through phenology observations.  Scientists are using Henry David Thoreau's and Aldo Leopold's phenology observations to investigate climate change.  Climate change strikes close to home again as Minnesota's warming winters have been attributed to changing the ecosystems and conditions conducive to life of our native Moose, whose population is declining.

If you're already doing phenology and using Minnesota's Changing Climate Curriculum, then here is a list of opportunities for you to support education and climate change solutions:

  1. Connect your classroomwith the MN climate and energy solutions conversation - Register now for one or both of our Summer Institutes!
    • Turn on your teaching with the Summer Institute for Energy Education, June 16-18
    • Dive into the classroom and outdoor components of our Minnesota's Changing Climate curriculum, August 6-7.
  2. Bring a group of students to the YEA!MN Lobby Day, Feb. 24th & 25th.  Your middle and high school students don't want to miss this:  Will Steger Foundation's Youth Environmental Activists Minnesota program (YEA! MN), along with Minnesota Youth Environmental Network (MNYEN), MN350, and the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) have planned a pair of events coming up February 24th and 25th for youth to learn about and advocate for sustainability on a local level.  Learn more on our website.
  3. logo forwardendeavorsCheck out the New Land 2013 Expedition. John Huston is leading the educational charge in the U.S. John and two of his teammates have all traveled extensively with Will Steger. The 4-person team will travel for 72 days on Ellesmere Island. Their blog begins later this month. Also keep an eye out for the project's packet of classroom activities designed to fit a range of ages and subjects. Your class can follow their progress. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
  4. Present at the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) conference. It is October 9-12, 2013, in Baltimore, MD.  Deadline for submitting a presentation proposal is March 31, 2013.  Consider submitting a proposal about how you are integrating climate change into your classroom in the Teaching About Environmental Issues Strand.
  5. Flight Behavior Join our next virtual book club meeting with special guest, Dr. Karen Oberhauser, Monarch Butterfly researcher and source for Barbara Kingsolver's recent book Flight Behavior.  We will meet online on February 28, 4:30 PM CST.  For more information and to get on the Climate and Energy book club list hosted by ICEE.  Please contact Susan Buhr if interested.  Read Kristen's recent review of the book on our blog.
  6. Check out the Life Discovery - Doing Science conference, "Exploring Biology for a Changing World" on March 15-16, 2013 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. From the website: "A major goal of the conference is to foster communities of practice and encourage the sharing of best practices in biology education across grades."
  7. Stop by and visit WSF Education Program Staff exhibiting and presenting at the CERTS conference February 20-21, or the Minnesota Conference on Science Education February 22 and 23.  Two great opportunities we are lucky to have in our state.

*whew!* what a list.  You've got great opportunities ahead of you.  To send you off energized, here's a spirited quote from Gov. Dayton's speech: 

"I challenge this legislature to work again with our state's visionary clean energy advocates, large energy providers, large energy users, other stakeholders, and my administration to use your past achievements as springboards for Minnesota's next big leap toward a sustainable energy future."

Kristen Poppleton & John Smith
Will Steger Foundation Education Program
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it 612-27807147

Note: This is part of a regular series of posts focused on integrating literacy and climate science and energy issues. The posts are a basis for or based on discussions in the "Not So Serious Climate and Energy Book Club." The book club is sponsored through ICEE: Inspiring Climate Change Education Excellence. Book suggestions, (especially hopeful ones!) are welcome in the comments area below. 

Please join us for discussion of Flight Behavior this month!  More information below.


I often joke that Barbara Kingsolver writes her books just for me. In my wandering, long-term relationship seeking 20’s I read The Bean Trees and Animal Dreams.  As I developed my awareness of politics and social justice, Small Wonder and The Poisonwood Bible came along, and when I had begun my career integrating biology, education and a love for the wilderness, Prodigal Summer was published.  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle sits on my shelf as inspiration and a reminder that I can always just make that jump off the grid if I so choose.

I have always loved Kingsolver's use of language and her ability to elicit a sigh or a "wow" with just one sentence of absolute beauty.  As she has matured as a writer, her works of fiction have become much more than just stories, but have sought to educate her readers about something.  Her commitment to this kind of fiction is demonstrated through her established of the Bellwether Prize, which was created to  "promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships."

With her latest book Flight Behavior, Kingsolver truly outdid herself writing ME, a fiction loving climate change educator, a book of fiction about climate change.  The story is told through the eyes of Dellarobia Turnbow, a young mother with a yearning for something more from life.  Flight Behavior takes the reader to the rural southeastern United States where a strange phenomena has occurred making the Turnbow farm of national scientific interest.  Monarch butterflies, turned off their migratory course for unknown reasons, have congregated in the slated to be logged out woods above the farm and a research team of scientists led by Dr. Ovid Byron set up a lab to discover clues that might tell them why.

There are a number of directions I could take in this review.  I could spend time critiquing Kingsolver's sometimes forced, but always accurate, approach to integrating the climate science.  I could also talk about her portrayal of small town rural life which some reviewers have called patronizing, yet much of which seemed well done as I remember my former life in a small town as an environmental educator trying to make friends with "townies".  There are also pages of quotes I could list that I found so lovely my copy of the book is practically entirely underlined.  Professionally, I appreciated Flight Behavior's snapshot of the struggles climate change educators face when up against a media focused on the news cycle, an education system that often doesn't provide students with a real understanding of science and the polarization of political parties today.  What resonated most with me, however, was Kingsolver's spot on description of the grief and sensation of loss most of us in this business of climate change education, communication and science carry around daily.

Kingsolver describes this grief and loss from the perspective of scientist Ovid when he comes to the realization that the majority of monarch butterflies in North America are on the Turnbow farm and at great risk.  She writes, "The one thing most beloved to him was dying.  Not a death in the family…but maybe as serious as that.  He'd chased this life for all his years; it had brought him this distance…Now began the steps of grief.  It would pass through this world…while most people paid no attention."  Dellarobia also goes through this journey of grief as a mother becoming more aware of the impacts of climate change.  "Dellarobia felt an entirely new form of panic as she watched her son love nature so expectantly, wondering if he might be racing toward a future like some complicated sand castle that was crumbling under the tide.  She didn't know how scientists bore such knowledge.  People had to manage terrible truths."  

The management of these "terrible truths" is one of the biggest challenges I face as a climate change educator and as a parent.  In Flight Behavior I find that once again Kingsolver had written ME a book that helps me feel less alone in my grief for the changes facing our planet and that demonstrates the powerful role literature can play in bringing climate change into the public conversation.  


Book Club Discussion Update February 28, 2013

In our book club discussion about Flight Behavior on February 28, we were lucky enough to be joined by special guest Dr. Karen Oberhauser, Monarch Butterfly researcher and source for Kingsolver's novel.  Overall she enjoyed Flight Behavior and found that the content on monarchs was fairly accuate, minus a few inaccuracies including Kingsolver had mixed up the actual way to identify male and female monarchs.  She thought the choice of monarchs as an organism to learn about climate change was good because researchers do have a sense of how they might respond to cliamte changre and because they resonate with people as organisms.  Obserhauser also thought that Kingsolver did a fairly good job of representing the three ways that climate impacts organisms.  This includes ckaunte as a large scale habitat changer, climate as a signal and climate as a direct cause of mortality or survival.

Please join us for a discussion of Zenith at our next Climate and Energy Book Club meeting hosted by ICEE, March 28 at 4:30PM CST.    We meet online and via conference call.  To access the webinar go to: and sign in as a guest using your name. You may use a headset with your computer to access the audio or call +18778659544 .


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