Climate Change Education

Upper School science teacher Debbie Van Ryn
Debbie Van Ryn

Poly’s faculty are all lifelong learners and that is very much true during summer, when so many take part in classes, seminars, and travel as part of their professional development. This continued in person or virtually during the pandemic.

Educating & Engaging Students on Climate Change

Because the global effects of climate change are considered among the greatest threats facing our planet and future generations, this past summer, science teacher Debbie Van Ryn attended a virtual climate change seminar suggested by our new Chair of the Science Department Ramesh Laungani. Van Ryn attended the virtual Climate Change Education Summer Institute with the organization Climate Generation from July 28-30. The goal of the seminar was to build strategies and gain tools for teaching her students, as well as network with other concerned educators about this topic. The work covered ways to foster environmental leadership in students, learning about and how to address racial inequities in regards to the environment, sharing approaches for impactful student-driven climate action, and more.

How will your community respond to climate change?

“The virtual conference was a gathering of educators from around the country and was focused on teaching about climate change and engaging students in actions commensurate with the urgency of the situation,” Van Ryn explained. The major themes throughout the conference were:

  • Let young people lead—give them the tools, the education, and the voice and start them on the path of leadership.
  • Focus on significant actions with large impact: it is time to move on from “don’t use plastic water bottles” to understanding and influencing systems—students can help a move toward renewable energy production, zero waste communities, changes in agricultural practices, etc.
  • Focus on a place-based framework that also moves our communities away from environmental racism and toward environmental justice. 
Climate Change Education professional development

Among the workshops Van Ryn attended were:

  • Mitigation vs Adaptation: what each is and what role they play in coping with climate change
  • Promoting Solar energy in our schools and in our communities
  • Environmental Racism
  • Workshops with teaching ideas (including Survey123 for collecting and analyzing survey data, media literacy, and analyzing opinion data from Yale Program on Climate Change Action)

“I learned some new teaching techniques and developed a community with other New York State educators involved in climate change,” Van Ryn said.

Asked how she would implement what she had learned in her Poly classes, she said, “In Science 8, we will be studying climate change later this semester.  This work will help me to create a service learning focus for the unit and help me to connect students to work that other students are doing.  It has also given me ideas to work into our Middle School club, Gardening and Sustainability.”

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