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Integrating STEM-Based Virtual Exchanges for Climate Change Education: A How-To Guide for the Science Teachers of New Jersey

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    By now, it should not be news that Earth’s climate is changing, primarily due to human usage (or misusage) of the planet and its resources. To help combat the negative effects of climate change, the New Jersey State Board of Education has developed and implemented standards that emphasize the importance of climate change education across different grade levels. Here’s the why, right from the BoE’s 200-page document: “The goal is for students to understand climate science as a way to inform decisions that improve quality of life for themselves, their community, and globally and to know how engineering solutions can allow us to mitigate impacts, adapt practices, and build resilient systems.”

    That all sounds well and good, but does it mean more work for our teachers and educators? Well, yes and no. To achieve these goals, science teachers can harness the power of the STEM-based virtual exchanges offered by Level Up Village to collaborate with schools across the country.

    As the standards state, “the topic of climate change can easily be integrated into science classes. At each grade level in which systems thinking, managing uncertainty, and building arguments based on multiple lines of data are included, there are opportunities for students to develop essential knowledge and skills that will help them understand the impacts of climate change on humans, animals, and the environment.” Here’s a how-to guide to get your creative juices flowing on how to integrate the goals (many of which we quote directly from the Board’s resolution) into LUV STEM classes in order to meet your climate change learning standards.

    Step One: Identify Collaborative Partners

    Start by connecting with the educators from schools in different geographic locations with whom you’ve been partnered by Level Up Village. If you already have colleagues or connections from other learning communities, tell them about Level Up Village and see if they’d like to partner with you and your students through the program’s secure web platform—you don’t have to be paired up with strangers if you’ve already got international pals!

    Step Two: Curriculum Alignment

    Collaborate with partner teachers to align your curricula. Identify common topics related to climate change, such as weather patterns, greenhouse gasses, environmental impacts, and adaptation strategies. Many of these will be covered in the STEM course, but likely more tailored to the overarching theme of the class. For example, one of LUV’s more popular courses focuses on the human impact of our communities on the environment. Another is on water conservation and the limited resource of clean water. So, deciding on the course and what objectives you and your partners want to cover with a preliminary meeting can chart a rewarding course for your students’ academic success, while also meeting your goals.

    Step Three: Shared Resources

    You and your fellow educators can always collaboratively curate online resources related to climate change. This could include scientific articles, videos, and interactive simulations, creating a shared repository for both classrooms. Naturally, the LUV course will come with a robust set of resources, but don’t forget that you’re an expert, too! And allowing yourself to be open to new resources will also give you a brand-new perspective on what your international colleagues are studying and the different materials with which they supplement their classes. The NJ State Board of Education gives you a few leads in their explanation of the standards: “In the middle grades, students use resources from New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to inform their actions as they engage in designing, testing, and modifying an engineered solution to mitigate the impact of climate change on their community.” Those are great places to start research, and they’ll certainly be new and of interest to your partners.

    Step Four: Collaborative Projects

    Level Up Village specializes in joint projects that require students to work together virtually. For instance, students from different schools can collaborate on creating models or experiments to demonstrate the impact of climate change on their communities, and then share their ideas in the asynchronous videos they film and share. Just like the standards state, “the goal is for students to understand climate science as a way to inform decisions that improve quality of life for themselves, their community, and globally and to know how engineering solutions can allow us to mitigate impacts, adapt practices, and build resilient systems.”   As the goal of standard K-2-ETS1-1 details, students will need to “[a]sk questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change.” What better situation than a virtual exchange to collaboratively explore these issues?

    Step Five: Global Climate Solutions

    The STEM global exchanges always explore engineering solutions to climate change together. Students can research and propose innovative ideas to mitigate climate change’s impacts on their communities, sharing these proposals during virtual exchanges; this is exactly what the NJ State Board of Education suggests in their standards across all ages and levels of education. The standards read, “in the earlier grades, students can use data from firsthand investigations of the school-yard habitat to justify recommendations for design improvements to the school-yard habitat for plants, animals, and humans. In high school, students can construct models they develop of a proposed solution to mitigate the negative health effects of unusually high summer temperatures resulting from heat islands in cities across the globe and share in the appropriate setting.” It’s all right there—proposed fixes for climate problems big and small.

    Step Six: Presentation Sharing, Data Sharing, and Analysis

    Organizing virtual presentations where students share their findings, projects, and solutions with their partner classrooms is what LUV does best. Not only does this encourage public speaking skills and cross-cultural learning, but it also meets the education goals set forth by New Jersey. You can see it right in the language of objective 5-ESS3-1: Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources, environment, and address climate change issues.” And it’s built right into the fabric of the Level Up Village courses! You can have students collect local climate and environmental data in their respective locations. Then, collaborate virtually to share and analyze data, identifying patterns and trends that relate to climate change.

    Step Seven: Reflection and Discussion

    Engaging students in reflective discussions about their experiences collaborating with peers from different regions is not only the heart of the virtual exchange; it’s also a great way to summatively review the takeaways of their experience and possibly add another assessment in the mix. Encourage them to explore the similarities and differences in how climate change affects various communities after they’ve experienced their climate change studies alongside partners in some other part of the world, and you’re likely to note a fundamental change in their outlook.  Ask students to reflect on what they’ve learned through the virtual exchange and how it has impacted their perspective on climate change. Directly hear from their perspective how useful telecollaboration can be.

    The New Jersey State Board of Education has done a great job of clearly defining the problem of climate change and cogently affirming the necessity of its involvement in science classes. The standards read, “global climate change has already resulted in a wide range of impacts across New Jersey and in many sectors of its economy. The addition of academic standards that focus on climate change is important so that all students will have a basic understanding of the climate system, including the natural and human-caused factors that affect it. The underpinnings of climate change span across physical, life, as well as Earth and space sciences.“ Luckily, the folks at Level Up Village share these concerns, and have presciently prioritized the subject in their virtual exchange coursework.

    By implementing the aforementioned strategies, science teachers can create a dynamic and engaging learning environment where students not only gain a deeper understanding of climate change but also develop essential STEM skills, cross-cultural awareness, and a sense of global responsibility. Through STEM-based virtual exchanges, students can actively contribute to the worldwide effort to combat climate change while building lasting connections with peers from different backgrounds. Don’t be afraid to dig into the Board’s resolutions if you want to read more about the standards, but know that Level Up Village has you covered, and is working side-by-side with you and other educators to rise to the challenge!