Pioneering Educators: Back To School With New Jersey's Climate Change Educators

Pioneering Educators: Back to School With New Jersey's Climate Change Educators

It’s been one year since New Jersey became the first state to start implementing climate change standards in every subject of K-12 education. How have our teachers adjusted? How are we feeling? What other news or updates have happened since? Where do we go from here? Let’s take a short look at how this journey is going and where we’re headed next.


Checking in With NJ Teachers

We asked two New Jersey teachers about their feelings and experiences bringing climate change topics into their classroom.  See if any of what they shared resonates with you.

Christa Delaney, a science teacher at Egg Harbor Township High School and content creator for SubjectToClimate had this to say:

"The first time I started introducing climate education into my classroom, I was not sure of the reaction that I would get from students. When I first started talking about climate education, I did not know anything about solutions. All I knew was that scientists had started noticing changes in temperature increasing and how this may affect the environment. 

My students were interested but did not think it was something that would happen in their lifetime or that they needed to be concerned about it right now. Now I see a different response from my students where they are more aware of the impacts of climate change on their lives.

I first started with just the basic idea that the planet was warming. This was related to when our school was putting solar panels on our building which was, for many of the students, their first time interacting with renewable energy. At that time, I did not really understand the implications of what climate change would look like or what solutions would be to mitigate the effects of climate change. " Christa Delaney

Kelly Stone, a K-5 STEM teacher at the George L. Catrambone Elementary School in Long Branch, NJ and content creator for SubjectToClimate shared her journey:

“When I began teaching climate change lessons in my classroom, I was nervous about how lessons would fit into the existing curriculum and how they would be perceived by students, administrators, and families of students in my classroom.  I was uncomfortable preparing lessons with little knowledge and understanding and felt unprepared to plan engaging lessons for students and support their understanding with little understanding myself.  

I took a risk; and the excitement, motivation, and enthusiasm to create change from my students inspired me to continue, planning, learning, researching, and creating.  I learned along with my students as we dove into topics that piqued their interest and spoke to their desire to create changes in their own lives and the community around them.  

I'll never forget one of the first lessons I taught around the well-known picture of a sea turtle with a straw lodged in its nasal cavity.  After learning about the impact of plastic on the oceans, many miles of which is the eastern border of our city, our students brainstormed ways they could help sea animals harmed by plastic straws. Third graders signed a petition to stop using straws in our school cafeterias and encouraged their 900-plus peers and later the whole district to stop using straws.

Their excitement and dedication to creating change led to my journey in teaching climate change. I continue attending PD, webinars, and researching today because of their passion to make a difference.” Kelly Stone

New Resources for the New School Year

So what’s next as we start this new school year? Regardless of where you are in bringing climate education into your classroom,  we’ve got resources to get you started or keep you going.  As educators, we know that starting a new year can be exciting, stressful, and everything in between. We also know that your time is in short supply.  Here’s our Back to School Resource Guide on the New Jersey Climate Education Hub where you can find everything from classroom decorations, games, and start-of-the-year activities to lessons and beginning units all connected to climate topics.

If you’re looking for a lesson to use at the start of the year that combines climate education with academic content, check out the four lessons below. All are ready for immediate use and include student documents, a teacher slideshow, and resources that are linked and vetted.

View Resource

Plants Without Soil?

Grade: K, 1st, 2nd

Subjects: Science, Biology

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students discover the benefits of an aquaponics system as they learn that plants can grow without soil. As learners move through the three sections of the lesson, Inquire, Investigate, and Inspire, they make predictions, explore different parts of an aquaponics system, and set up their own system in the classroom. 

Plants Without Soil?

Opportunities for scientific applications such as observing, note-taking, making predictions, and reporting results take place while students create a real solution for growing food, especially in areas where clean soil and water are scarce. This would be a great lesson to use at the beginning of the school year because your students can observe their aquaponics system throughout the year!

View Resource

What About Bees?

Grade: 3rd, 4th, 5th

Subjects: Science, Biology, English Language Arts

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

In this lesson, students discover the importance of bees to humans and our food supply, and they learn how to create a healthy habitat for bees. While some students may fear bees, this learning experience will help them understand why humans need bees and what can be done to support and protect their natural habitat. 

What About Bees?

Students start by brainstorming answers to the question, "Why are bees important to us?" After watching a video of the book Bee and Me by author Alison Jay, students create captions to demonstrate the importance of bees. Finally, each student develops a plan for how they will help bees in New Jersey. The natural connection between literacy standards and science makes this an engaging lesson and learning experience. 

View Resource

Solving Problems

Grade: 6th, 7th, 8th

Subjects: Social Studies, Career Readiness, Life Literacies, and Key Skills

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

This lesson aims to help students identify and solve problems at three different levels: individual, local, and global, by using the Knot Game to enhance collective problem-solving skills. Using climate change-related issues like the the hole in the ozone layer, students learn about the problem, explore potential solutions, and develop a problem-solving guide incorporating effective strategies.

Solving Problems

Consider using this lesson to start your school year because it helps students and teachers develop an initial sense of community and teamwork. Using climate topics, this lesson helps students identify problems, brainstorm solutions, and consider different cultural or social perspectives of problem-solving.  While addressing climate topics, it also establishes a larger framework that includes the whole student and naturally builds on social-emotional skills within a classroom. It can be used as a great stand-alone lesson to establish classroom culture or as an intro lesson to a new unit.

View Resource

Invasives Infographic and Instagram

Grade: 9-12

Subjects: English Language Arts

Resource Type: Lesson Plan

This lesson was written by a teacher in our Hawai‘i cohort over the summer. While it is aligned with Hawai‘i’s HĀ-Breath Values, it can easily be adapted to focus on invasive species in New Jersey. In this lesson, students focus on identifying and researching the historical context and ecological impact of an invasive species on nearby communities. 

Invasives Infographic and Instagram

Students select and research one local invasive species and take their own photographs of it. Students then create two different pieces of community outreach: an infographic and an engaging Instagram post with a caption summarizing their findings about the chosen invasive species. If teachers are concerned about time constraints, they can choose to focus on either the infographic or the social media post. Teachers can use the assignment in class or for homework, and the student work can be displayed in the classroom or hallway. Additionally, teachers can use this lesson to gauge students’ initial abilities at research, summarizing information, and creating a condensed output.

As the first state to focus on the importance of climate education in all subject areas, New Jersey is leading the way and New Jersey educators have answered the call to bring climate education into their K-12 classrooms! Students are asking questions as they notice environmental changes occurring from the shoreline to the mountains and even their own backyards. Teachers in New Jersey have many resources at their fingertips to provide enriching and developmentally-appropriate lessons that make relevant connections and strengthen student learning in all areas. So, as you begin a new school year, select a lesson or a resource, and start your classroom journey into climate education with positive solutions and deeper understanding.


Interested in learning more about teaching climate change? Check out SubjectToClimate's free NJ Climate Education Mentorship Program!

NJ Climate Education in the News

This news story from NPR follows New Jersey's journey in implementing climate change standards across all academic subjects. From art teachers, like Carolyn McGrath to wellness teachers, like Suzanne Horsley, New Jersey educators are coming up with creative, solutions-based climate change lessons to help students understand their role in combatting the climate crisis. Whether that comes in the form of using movement and play to learn about the carbon cycle or learning about youth climate activists through a unit on portraiture, New Jersey students are discovering how climate change impacts all aspects of life.


A  recent poll demonstrated that 70 percent of state residents support climate change being taught at schools. That support mirrors nationwide findings that show the overwhelming majority of Americans, on both sides of the political divide, want their children to learn about climate change. As New Jersey leads the way in support of educating even our youngest learners, the hope is that other states will follow this example.

In response to New Jersey’s passing of climate change education standards, Rutgers University created opportunities for public school teachers to participate in workshops and brainstorm ways to teach kids about the impact of climate change in New Jersey. Funded by their school districts using grant money from New Jersey’s Department of Education, teachers created idea boards and attended various presentations. Additionally, Rutgers University created spaces and places for shared resources and collaboration across departments in order to better support teachers and students digging deeper into climate change topics.


As this new school year starts, Rutgers will continue to offer resources, professional development, and support for teachers continuing to build climate change into their classrooms. Check out this link for more information: RU PD for teachers.


Stay up to date with New Jersey climate education news and New Jersey-specific professional development opportunities.

Yen-Yen Chiu, Ed.D

Yen-Yen Chiu, Ed.D
Director of Content Creation

Yen-Yen has been in public education since 2001, teaching multiple levels of English and math for middle school and high school in California and New Jersey. Credentialed in English, math, and introductory music she loves creating interdisciplinary curricula with student choice and assessments that can highlight different learning styles and knowledge applications.

Elaine Makarevich

New Jersey Regional Lead

Elaine is a New Jersey educator with 30 years of teaching experience in grades K-6. The earth and the natural world have always been a focus of her life and throughout her career as her students learned critical lessons about their planet when visiting her indoor or outdoor classrooms.

New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub

The resources you and your school need to effectively teach climate change. These comprehensive resources are built around the official NJ Student Learning Standards and expand on the work of the New Jersey Department of Education.