Beyond the Controversy: An Oklahoma/Texas Teacher Workshop on Climate Science

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015: 2:00 PM
125AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Monica O'Brien Deming, Oklahoma Climatological Survey, Norman, OK; and D. E. Mattox, M. K. Corbett, A. Melvin, K. A. Kloesel, G. McManus, A. Krautmann, and B. G. Illston

In states where climate change is often portrayed as unsound or unsettled science, teaching about weather, climate, and climate change in the classroom can be dicey. For the past two years, the Oklahoma Climatological Survey in conjunction with Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education has hosted a 3-day workshop at the University of Oklahoma Biostation at Lake Texoma in southern Oklahoma to address this problem. This workshop is designed to make Oklahoma and Texas K-12 teachers more knowledgeable about weather and climate in general and to help them navigate the tricky subject of teaching climate change in a classroom.

The current political climate in both Oklahoma and Texas was one of the driving factors in the establishment of this atmospheric climate workshop. Over the past two years, more than 60 Oklahoma scientists and educators collaborated to revamp the state standards for science to replace the old Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills for Science (PASS) that many viewed as inadequate and vague. The result is the Oklahoma Academic Skills for Science, a robust document that covers all aspects of science for all grade levels, including core ideas, scientific thought, crosscutting relationships, writing, math, and engineering. Science educators across Oklahoma regard the new standards as superior in comparison to the older PASS. However, lawmakers on the Oklahoma House Administrative Rules and Government Oversight Committee voted 10-1 to reject the standards in their entirety. One of the principal arguments against the new standards is that students are introduced to weather and climate at early grades, including human impacts on climate. Lawmakers on the committee say these new standards will allow young, impressionable minds to get the wrong idea about climate change.

Thanks in part to the major media's desire to have “both sides” of the climate change argument in addition to some organizations' political clout, many in the general public have concluded that there is an even division among those in the scientific community about climate change. Due to these views, some students come to the classroom with preconceived notions about weather and climate in general, not just man-made global warming. Since climate change is a politically polarizing issue with so much at stake, many parents feel passionately about the topic on both sides, so teachers are pressured from those who hold both viewpoints to teach their side. Teaching about climate change can be a lose-lose situation, unless the controversy is left out of it.

The primary objective of the workshop is focused on climate change, but basic tenets of meteorology and climatology are addressed, since this is a subject in which many teachers are poorly trained. Another objective is for teachers to leave the workshop with ideas and lessons for the classroom that will improve students' overall understanding of our atmosphere and changing climate. Activities and presentations in the workshop include: basic meteorology, what climate regions are, greenhouse gasses, the science of climate change, evidence for human-caused climate change, recent observed differences in plant and animal behavior attributed to climate change, paleoclimate, climate indicators/proxies, how ignorance of weather and climate have lead to humanitarian crises in the past, weather statistics, and OK/TX state standards and curriculum. Teachers who have attended this workshop say they feel more confident about teaching weather, climate and climate change in the classroom. This workshop features topics, activities, and presentations that are not specific to Oklahoma and Texas; it could easily be held anywhere in the country and be just as pertinent.