Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change

Teacher Friendly Guide to Climate Change

Wondering how to start teaching about climate change and its numerous topics but aren't sure where to start? Wouldn’t it be great to have what you need at your fingertips when it comes to educating yourself on climate change? Or maybe you are familiar with climate change topics, but don’t know how to incorporate them into your daily lessons. As teachers, we know how important it is to develop lessons with high-quality resources and meaningful steps for our students, but what about your learning needs? This teacher-friendly guide to climate change highlights Professional Learning Opportunities (PLOs), blogs, and teacher resources to help you deepen your understanding of climate change, prepare to teach confidently, and develop high-interest lessons and activities for your students.

Climate Change Crash Course

Target Grade Level: 6-8, 9-12

Subjects: Science

Offering: PLO Course

This interactive and engaging online course condenses climate change into three easy-to-read chapters. It covers the basics of climate change and explains the importance of climate-conscious decision-making in all aspects of society (energy, agriculture, industry, waste, etc.). It also explains the need for a just and equitable transition to renewable energy. The course offers interactive quizzes and accessible graphics and ensures that every fact is cited appropriately. Educators ready to take the first step toward learning more about climate solutions will find this a great place to start!

Teachers will find this online course extremely valuable as a starting point to educate themselves on the basics of climate change. The format of the course allows the user to complete one 30-minute section at a time while assessing comprehension along the way.  Busy teachers will appreciate the chance to “lunch and learn” in just a few days!

The content is detailed and focused, yet clear enough to build a solid foundation for a climate education novice. This course will give teachers the ability to broach climate change topics in their classrooms with confidence. For educators with some climate education knowledge, this course can serve as a quick refresher. A certificate is offered upon completion of the course which can fulfill Professional Development requirements in some school districts. 

Teaching Climate

Target Grade Level: 6-8, 9-12

Subjects: Science

Offering: PLO Guide

This PLO guide, developed by The Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN), provides middle and high school science teachers with tangible ways to incorporate climate change topics into their classes. The key elements of the resource include methods to optimize students’ comprehension through grade-level-specific instructional strategies, suggestions on how to effectively introduce climate-related topics, and links to supplementary teaching tools. Organized in a simple-to-navigate guide, this resource offers valuable tips for teaching about climate change.

What’s best about this resource? Teachers will find this teacher-friendly guide to climate change extremely useful and easy to navigate because they can click on each topic to learn more about its connection to the classroom. For example, in the section titled “Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate”, educators learn essential tips for teaching about this relationship with links to high-quality, free resources. Here is a sample of one teaching suggestion from this section: When teaching about the interplay between climate and life, the differences between natural and human-caused changes should be emphasized. Questions may arise such as: Are all natural changes good? Are all human-caused effects bad? Is our current climate the "right" climate? It's important to emphasize that the recent increases in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are unprecedented in the geologic past. Comparing natural and human-caused changes can foster stewardship of the planet among students. 

In just a few minutes, educators can navigate the guide to select an area of interest and bookmark the selection for later reference.Teachers will benefit from the thorough coverage of climate topics that connect to the classroom, especially for science courses at the middle school and high school levels. Teachers with minimal experience in climate change education will find that this resource provides a strong foundation to build their confidence as they broach these topics with students. The PLO guide is also provided in Spanish, so Spanish-speaking educators can readily support their own learning and teaching, as well as their Spanish-speaking students.

Toolbox for Teaching Climate and Energy

Target Grade Level: K-12

Subjects: Science

Offering: PLO Guide

This website, created by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) features many resources to equip any K-12 teacher to bring lessons on climate and energy into their classroom. The site outlines the Climate Action Learning Process, a seven-step process to teach climate change in the classroom. Dropdown bars for each of the steps feature many links to resources, organizations, and opportunities to support teachers. For educators looking to incorporate new lessons and instructional objectives, this is another piece of the puzzle that will connect them to quality climate education content!

This resource provides a way forward for integrating climate education in classrooms of all levels. Educators with both extensive and minimal climate education background will find that the Climate Action Learning Process provides a path they can follow to educate students about climate and energy science, develop the skills to take action, and then reevaluate their teaching methods. Complete with a toolbox and links to high-quality credible resources, this site organizes and highlights resources from numerous teaching professionals and science partners with the goal of supporting teachers of climate and energy education. This complete resource will prepare educators who are beginning their climate education journey and provide enhanced opportunities to teachers who are already on their journey!

Fundamental Concepts: Connecting Elementary Science Topics to Climate

Target Grade Level: K-2, 3-5

Subjects: Science

Offering: PLO Guide

It can be daunting for elementary educators to not only find high-quality resources, but to feel confident about incorporating climate change education into the classroom. This resource, a PLO guide prepared by the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN), serves to bridge that gap. Teachers will find help breaking down complex climate science concepts into digestible concepts for K-5 students. The guide uses the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as a framework for tackling climate education in the early years. The concepts are separated by grade level to ensure grade-appropriate teaching strategies and comprehension. 

This is a comprehensive resource that elementary educators will love, no matter where they are on the climate education spectrum! The links to relevant NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas grouped by grade band provide a solid foundation for teachers looking to break down more complex ideas of climate science for elementary students. Teachers can confidently search topics according to grade bands and underscore the importance of Climate Science Literacy, an understanding of your influence on climate and climate's influence on you and society. 

The CLEAN website allows educators to browse through a multitude of links that facilitate the process of teaching about climate and energy. This site focuses on providing easy-to-read explanations of science and policy that will guide teachers and students through the key principles of climate and energy. There are suggested teaching approaches corresponding to various grade levels, including Spanish-language versions and culturally relevant climate teaching ideas. The supporting materials are reviewed and checked for credibility by CLEAN, giving teachers the confidence to use them in their classrooms. Novice climate educators will find this tool to be one that they will return to time and again to support their lessons, and teachers who already have some experience teaching climate topics will appreciate the ease of navigating this resource to support existing lesson plans and student activities.

Climate Change Introduction Lessons

Target Grade Level: K-12

Subjects: Science

Offering: Blog Post

This blog post, which is part of the SubjectToClimate Confident Climate Educator blog series, lays a foundation for teachers of grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 who are ready to introduce their students to a lesson on climate change. The blog addresses each grade band individually, providing an outline of specific teaching resources for educators to follow. Depending on the selected grade level, you can choose a section of the blog post, review the suggestions and be prepared to introduce your students to climate change with well-developed and credible sources, activities, and lesson plans.

What’s great about this particular resource is that each grade band is highlighted separately, allowing busy educators to jump to the relevant section, review the resources, and develop an introductory lesson plan with ease. Each grade band has an offering of videos, interactives, articles, activities, and lesson plans based on where you would like to start. The heavy lifting is done for teachers who can select the resources with confidence, knowing that they have been reviewed by teachers and scientists. In addition to the high-quality resources evaluated in this post, the author explains how the resources can be blended together in a classroom setting to build a climate education foundation that will allow them to dig deeper in future lessons.

Weather and Climate

Grades: K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Earth and Space Sciences

Resource Type: Video

This video will help teachers learn how to introduce students to the difference between weather and climate. The content of the video includes an explanation of how changes in climate can occur.  A synopsis of the video is included as well as detailed teaching tips, scientist notes, and Next Generation Science Standards. 

This unique video resource can be used by teachers in two ways;  to learn about the difference between weather and climate in order to inform their instruction, or to view it with students to build their understanding of this concept. The teaching tips include positives, additional prerequisites, and differentiation suggestions to aid teachers in deciding how to best use the video in their respective classrooms. The video itself includes suggestions for what concepts are appropriate for different grade levels and the first part of the video can be used in the classroom to introduce students to weather and climate. The video is under 8 minutes long, creating a perfect opportunity for busy teachers to review the content and suggested uses in a short period of time. Educators can easily add this short video resource to a science lesson to engage students and still have time to delve deeper into the difference between climate and weather. 

Human Impacts on Earth Systems

Grades: K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, Justice, Health

Resource Type: Video

Similar to the video resource highlighted above, this video provides educators with teaching tips, scientist notes, and Next Generation Science Standards on the human impacts to Earth’s systems. In under five minutes, the video describes the many ways humans influence the geosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere. The last segment of the video discusses the grade-level appropriateness of each topic and provides teaching suggestions for different grade levels.

Teachers will find that this video is a resource relevant to all science classrooms, and all grades. A detailed summary of the video content is provided for educators, enabling them to determine how best to use this video in their classroom or how to extend the content in meaningful ways. For example, the Teaching Tips section suggests that “cross-curricular connections could be made with history and social studies classes when discussing the advancements made in our standards of living and how our population and development have rapidly increased over time.By including these tips, educators can choose to share the video in their classrooms with confidence. There are links to other resources on Earth’s Systems, making this another valuable resource tool in our teacher-friendly guide to climate change.

Food and Climate Change

Grades: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th

Subjects: Science, Biology, Health, Engineering

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

This resource focuses on teaching students about the causes and impacts of food waste, plant-based diets, and crop varieties. It includes a teacher's guide with additional differentiation tips, a rubric, worksheets, readings, a podcast, and activities about how food relates to climate. Authored by MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, teachers can feel confident using this lesson and the accompanying materials.

This guide, designed for high school students, provides a lesson plan framework and all necessary teaching materials, lessening the teacher's burden for implementation. In addition, the linked Teacher pages include materials, discussion questions, background resources, and adaptation suggestions for science, social science, and ELA teachers. Educators can download the lesson plan, teacher materials, and student materials for classroom use or remote learning. Tips for social-emotional learning checks and options for differentiation can be found in the downloadable teacher guide, along with student objectives, listed standards, and everything a teacher might look for to implement this lesson. 

No matter your climate education background or the grade level you teach, the resources highlighted in this Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change are here to guide your instruction. If you are just beginning your journey, I recommend starting with taking the Climate Change Crash Course.  From there you can move along to one of the video resources or lesson resources to begin building your first learning experience for students with confidence. Even if you’re already teaching about climate in your classroom, the resources highlighted in this guide can deepen student learning, strengthen your knowledge, and support new lesson ideas to help you build your climate education repertoire. It’s time to stop wondering how you can become more comfortable with teaching about climate change and time to begin!

About the Author

Elaine is a New Jersey elementary educator with 30 years of teaching experience in grades K-6. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish and Elementary Education, a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education, a Graduate Supervisor Certificate, and a Graduate Certificate in Gifted Education. Currently, she is the K-6 Schoolwide Enrichment/Gifted Education Services Teacher/Coordinator in her district as well as the Teacher/Coordinator of the school’s Outdoor Schoolyard Garden and Greenhouse. She served as a NJ Teaching Fellow writing climate education lesson plans for the NJ Climate Education Hub developed in 2022. The earth and the natural world have always been a focus of her life and throughout her career as her students learn important lessons about their planet when visiting her indoor or outdoor classrooms.