How can we help?

Home > Revision Assistant > Prompt Library > Expansion Pack Library > Teaching Climate Change in Schools

Teaching Climate Change in Schools


Grades 9-10 | Argumentative | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 1090L-1460L

Learning Standards





Prompt:  Climate change, and, in particular, human impact on climate change, has become one of the most controversial topics across the globe. Despite extensive research and conclusions by climate scientists, many people hold widely varying opinions on the topic. These opinions are creating some confusion for many schools and teachers who are struggling with how to teach the topic of climate change.


Read the following sources about teaching climate change in schools. Then write an essay in which you make a claim about whether or not school science curriculums should include lessons on climate change. Use evidence from the sources to support your claim. Be sure to acknowledge and refute the counterclaim that addresses the other side of the argument.


Source 1

Teachers Dig in to Teach Climate Change

by Karin Kirk

September 7, 2017


School's back in around the country, and teachers face new opportunities, continued challenges, in teaching climate change.

In some parts of the U.S., school buses are returning to school along altered routes, dodging acrid plumes of wildfire smoke or murky floodwaters. Even the students who aren’t feeling these effects are likely hearing about them. Waiting to greet them all is an array of science teachers who are rolling up their sleeves and getting ready to tackle a difficult realm: teaching climate change.

Cheryl Manning, a high school science teacher in Evergreen, Colorado, fluently ticks through the list of scientific concepts she uses to teach climate change: “I start with astronomy and move forward. I get into chemistry and how bonds work. We do the carbon cycle, the electromagnetic spectrum. We build the foundations of climate one piece at a time.”

Her depth of knowledge shows through: “In reality, the climate system is pretty straightforward to teach.”

But as president of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, Manning knows that teaching climate change is beset with potential challenges. “These days, there is toxic verbiage going on around science and education; there is an attack on just knowing stuff.” Undaunted, she continues confidently, “The reality is the data and the evidence. And we have all that.”


Florida paves the way to challenge textbooks

Managing a classroom full of kids is hard enough. But at the same time, science teachers risk being undercut by state legislators, school boards, or even residents who feel that teaching about climate change is value-laden, “not balanced,” or amounts to indoctrination.

“In sixth grade science, everyone was required to watch a movie on global warming,” writes Deirdre Clemons in her affidavit in support of a controversial Florida law. “The teacher did mention briefly that this is still a theory, but what impression are children left with when they watch a whole movie promoting this idea as fact?”

With the help of Clemons and others sharing her views, and with strategic efforts of the conservative Florida Citizens’ Alliance, the state passed a law in June requiring school districts to accommodate residents who seek to challenge instructional materials such as textbooks or lesson plans. Residents feeling curricular materials are unsuitable now have a legal pathway to contest the school’s decisions.




In an ironic twist, this Florida newspaper covers the legislation that can undermine teaching of climate science – while adjacently displaying a sidebar showing a video about flooding and extreme weather. (Screenshot from Naples News)



Idaho removes climate change altogether – for now

Idaho lawmakers updated their science education standards in January 2017, but only after removing five sections that refer to climate change. The proposed standards “didn’t seem to me to present both sides of the picture,” said Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, who pushed for the elimination of climate change language.

In an encouraging turn, the deletion of climate standards was a catalyst for more than 1,000 public comments and an overflowing public hearing at the state capitol in Boise. A state education committee is seeking ways to restore the standards, although likely in a way that makes them weaker than the original benchmarks that were removed.




Comparison of standards from



Some teachers lack essential understanding


Climate science is a rigorous subject to teach, even in the absence of political or parental interference. The topic spans multiple scientific disciplines, and fewer than half of today’s educators received formal training about climate science in college. Given that cultural or personal values often interfere with acceptance of anthropogenic climate change, you have a recipe for uneven treatment of climate topics in the classroom.

A 2016 study of U.S. middle school and high school teachers revealed some unsettling trends. Around one-third of teachers thought that recent warming is driven by natural causes, or that human and natural influences play equal roles. Furthermore, 70 percent of middle school teachers and 55 percent of high school teachers did not know that the great majority of the world’s climate scientists conclude that humans are the primary driver of today’s warming.

Manning strikes a conciliatory tone: “Don’t blame teachers. They are doing the best they can with what they know.”


‘I realized I had to learn more’

Kelli Grabowski, an earth science teacher at Cattaraugus-Little Valley High School in western New York, was on the same path as many of the teachers in the 2016 study. During her geology undergraduate studies, “climate change just wasn’t part of the curriculum,” she recounts. “I was pretty convinced that it was happening, but because I didn’t know if it was natural or human-caused, it didn’t seem as urgent.” Grabowski initially taught “both sides” of climate change – that it could be driven by natural factors or human actions. “The kids would go along with it. ‘Oh okay, there’s two sides,’ they’d say.”

Five years ago, that changed. “I had some students who didn’t believe it at all.” Grabowski recalls, “They didn’t believe climate change was happening.” She was unsure of the science herself, “When I was challenged, I realized I had to learn more.” Grabowski started reading on her own, trying to unravel the controversy. “I was seeing, okay, there’s a lot of information that it is happening, and that it’s us causing it.” She continues, “I learned more about peer review that I didn’t quite know. I wasn’t a scientist. A lot of teachers don’t know this.”

But the silver lining was that her students saw her going through the research, which earned her credibility, particularly among the argumentative students. “They respected that I was continuing to learn about it.”

“That year changed my life as a teacher.”


From teaching ‘both sides,’ to statewide leader

Since taking online courses in climate change and learning as much as she could about the topic, Grabowski has become a leader in climate education. Now she infuses climate change into her earth science course. “We look at proxy data,” she explains. Student groups work with data from ice cores, tree rings, corals, and sediment cores, all of which reveal geologic clues about past climates. “The natural cycles that should be going on are not matching up, unless you put the human factor into play,” concludes Grabowski.

Because of her recent initiative to learn about the topic, she doesn’t see herself as the kind of teacher who simply preaches the facts. Her students work with data because “I want them to see how we could get this information for ourselves.”

The election of Donald Trump as President spurred Grabowski to up her game even further, she says. “Okay I have to do something,” she thought. With the help of colleagues in the New York State Master Teacher Program, she organized the Western NY Youth Climate Action Summit, which brought together 95 students from 25 schools to collaboratively organize actions they could take in their communities. “It was really uplifting. People were relieved that there was someone else that cared as much as they did.”


From tailpipes to trees

At Amherst Regional High School in Massachusetts, climate change has been a prominent part of the curriculum for more than 10 years. “It’s good stuff,” quips environmental science teacher Krista Larsen, who is visibly excited to be back in the classroom. Larsen’s favorite activity is the “cars and trees lab” where ninth graders measure carbon emissions from car exhaust and compare it to the amount of carbon uptake in the school forest.

The lab includes four days of field data collection – from the parking lot to the maple trees. “Then kids do a lot of math and sew it all together to figure out how much carbon is emitted by cars compared to absorbed by trees.”

The answer? It would take 10 to 20 forests to offset the carbon from school commuting. Larsen describes the students’ reaction to their result: “They go, ‘Oh we kinda suck.'”

But students needn’t dwell on the negative. The course wraps up with a large unit on alternative energy. “We build solar collectors. We calculate efficiencies. We test the blade angle of wind turbines,” Larsen says, smiling, “We have a lot fun.”

Larsen knows she’s fortunate to teach in a community that is accepting of the science. Even so, she lays a careful foundation: “Teaching with data is the most important thing you can do to overcome skepticism.”

“Using personal data makes it personally applicable,” she explains. “It’s not just IPCC data. This is MY data. I’m measuring the carbon coming out of that car. It’s pretty powerful for kids.” She clearly embraces her role of educating the next generation to tackle climate change: “We can totally do this. I love it. It’s great.”


‘It’s gratifying’

Meanwhile, Manning has weathered pushback in her 15 years of teaching climate science in Colorado. Most of that is in the past; now teachers across the sciences and humanities team-up to weave climate topics into the curriculum.

Even while teachers are in general agreement, Manning still encounters a range of outlooks in her students. She recounted a recent student who expressed skepticism about climate change. “He wore a certain red baseball cap,” she explains with a wry smile, clearly referring to the red ‘Make America Great Again’ cap.

He was reluctant at first, but by the time they completed a unit on climate change, “He did a good job. He showed he understands it.” At the conclusion of the unit, Manning checked-in to revisit his thoughts on the topic. “He said: ‘I have a much deeper understanding about the evidence. And there have been a lot of arguments at our table at dinner time.'” While Manning isn’t out to create uncomfortable dinnertime conversations, “I feel like I’m doing my job,” she says. “It’s gratifying.”

Because the effects of climate change will fall largely on the shoulders of the next generation, it’s all the more important to give them the science literacy and the tools to grapple with it. Soon enough, it will be up to them to make decisions for the rest of us.


“Teachers Dig in to Teach Climate Change” by Yale Climate Connections is licensed under CC Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.





Source 2

The Debate Over Teaching Climate Change in Schools

July 24, 2017



Even with concern for climate change in the US being the highest it’s been in about 30 years, only 45 percent of Americans are worried about it. This almost even split is likely to make the debate over the issue of climate change even more controversial regardless of whether you believe or doubt the phenomena.


However, more debate has risen recently over whether school curriculums should include climate change. This conundrum is extremely complicated, delving into issues beyond climate change itself, like how we decide what topics our children learn.



What Has Happened?


Recent events have proven that the debate over teaching climate change in schools is far from finished. In Florida, House Bill 989 passed in June. This bill enabled any individual in Florida to raise concerns about a school’s curriculum and potentially have it changed. Some people believe this bill to be an attack on the teaching of climate change and other controversial topics.


Similarly, in February 2017, the state of Idaho removed any references to climate change from the education curriculum. While many Republican sources argued that the move was simply an act of giving control back to individual school districts over their own curriculum, the specific removal of how human behavior affects Earth’s climate can be viewed as a direct attack on the teaching of climate change itself.



Theory or Fact?


The issue at the heart of the debate over teaching climate change in schools is whether it is a scientific theory or scientific fact. Few question the place of scientific facts in our nation’s curriculum — gravity is a force keeping us on the ground. Electrons have a negative charge, and humans are mammals. But should we consider climate change a fact or theory?


The general scientific consensus is that climate change happens, and we are at least one of the causes. While many prominent scientists and officials do question this basic premise, most controversy surrounds the extent that humans influence global warming. This is why many people criticize the teaching of climate change in schools. If uncertainty exists, then many people believe schools should not teach the subject to their children.



To Teach or Not to Teach — That Is the Question


The uncertainty surrounding climate change is one of the main reasons why its relevance to the curriculum is questioned so regularly. However, 97 percent of scientists agree on both climate change happening in the world and human activity’s effect on it — so is it really that uncertain?


The real danger that surrounds teaching climate change in schools comes from the potential for teachers to fail to teach it properly. Climate change’s controversial nature is likely to spur passionate opinions from even teachers themselves, supposed bastions of impartiality.


Many teachers misrepresent the scientific consensus regarding climate change, teaching inconsistently with the reportedly 97 percent of the scientific community who support the occurrence of human-influenced climate change.



What to Do?


So what is the solution to the debate over teaching climate change in schools?

Simply put, there is no one solution. No single action can possibly solve the myriad of problems likely to arise from teaching climate change in schools, or from failing to teach it.


But if, as many scientists believe, human activity is a factor in climate change, then it is essential for the next generation to learn about the potential effects of their actions — and what they can do to alleviate the results of those actions.


Source 3

Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming (excerpt)

by The Heartland Institute



The most important fact about climate science, often overlooked, is that scientists disagree about the environmental impacts of the combustion of fossil fuels on the global climate. There is no survey or study showing “consensus” on the most important scientific issues, despite frequent claims by advocates to the contrary.


Scientists disagree about the causes and consequences of climate for several reasons. Climate is an interdisciplinary subject requiring insights from many fields. Very few scholars have mastery of more than one or two of these disciplines. Fundamental uncertainties arise from insufficient observational evidence, disagreements over how to interpret data, and how to set the parameters of models. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), created to find and disseminate research finding a human impact on global climate, is not a credible source. It is agenda-driven, a political rather than scientific body, and some allege it is corrupt. Finally, climate scientists, like all humans, can be biased. Origins of bias include careerism, grant-seeking, political views, and confirmation bias.


Probably the only “consensus” among climate scientists is that human activities can have an effect on local climate and that the sum of such local effects could hypothetically rise to the level of an observable global signal. The key questions to be answered, however, are whether the human global signal is large enough to be measured and if it is, does it represent, or is it likely to become, a dangerous change outside the range of natural variability? On these questions, an energetic scientific debate is taking place on the pages of peer-reviewed science journals.


In contradiction of the scientific method, IPCC assumes its implicit hypothesis – that dangerous global warming is resulting, or will result, from human-related greenhouse gas emissions – is correct and that its only duty is to collect evidence and make plausible arguments in the hypothesis’s favor. It simply ignores the alternative and null hypothesis, amply supported by empirical research, that currently observed changes in global climate indices and the physical environment are the result of natural variability.


The results of the global climate models (GCMs) relied on by IPCC are only as reliable as the data and theories “fed” into them. Most climate scientists agree those data are seriously deficient and IPCC’s estimate for climate sensitivity to CO2 is too high. We estimate a doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels (from 280 to 560 ppm) would likely produce a temperature forcing of 3.7 Wm-2 in the lower atmosphere, for about ~1°C of prima facie warming. The recently quiet Sun and extrapolation of solar cycle patterns into the future suggest a planetary cooling may occur over the next few decades.


In a similar fashion, all five of IPCC’s postulates, or assumptions, are readily refuted by real-world observations, and all five of IPCC’s claims relying on circumstantial evidence are refutable. For example, in contrast to IPCC’s alarmism, we find neither the rate nor the magnitude of the reported late twentieth century surface warming (1979–2000) lay outside normal natural variability, nor was it in any way unusual compared to earlier episodes in Earth’s climatic history. In any case, such evidence cannot be invoked to “prove” a hypothesis, but only to disprove one. IPCC has failed to refute the null hypothesis that currently observed changes in global climate indices and the physical environment are the result of natural variability.


Rather than rely exclusively on IPCC for scientific advice, policymakers should seek out advice from independent, nongovernment organizations and scientists who are free of financial and political conflicts of interest. NIPCC’s conclusion, drawn from its extensive review of the scientific evidence, is that any human global climate impact is within the background variability of the natural climate system and is not dangerous.


In the face of such facts, the most prudent climate policy is to prepare for and adapt to extreme climate events and changes regardless of their origin. Adaptive planning for future hazardous climate events and change should be tailored to provide responses to the known rates, magnitudes, and risks of natural change. Once in place, these same plans will provide an adequate response to any human-caused change that may or may not emerge.


Policymakers should resist pressure from lobby groups to silence scientists who question the authority of IPCC to claim to speak for “climate science.” The distinguished British biologist Conrad Waddington wrote in 1941,

It is… important that scientists must be ready for their pet theories to turn out to be wrong. Science as a whole certainly cannot allow its judgment about facts to be distorted by ideas of what ought to be true, or what one may hope to be true (Waddington, 1941).

This prescient statement merits careful examination by those who continue to assert the fashionable belief, in the face of strong empirical evidence to the contrary, that human CO2 emissions are going to cause dangerous global warming.


Reference: Waddington, C.H. 1941. The Scientific Attitude. London, UK: Penguin Books.





Source 4

Formal Class Hours Devoted to Recent Global Warming (chart)







Source 5

Percentage of Teachers Covering Each Topic, Sorted from Most to Least Common (chart)








Source 6

Teacher Approaches to Climate Science and Scientific Consensus (chart)














Last modified


This page has no custom tags.


(not set)