Standardized testing and climate change education

The climate change discussion is quite widespread and a focal point of action in the academic community, but has not yet adequately filtered down to the middle and high-school levels. This comes as a result of a number of factors ranging from the ineptitude of politicians, to teachers that are unprepared to teach the material, to a simple lack of time to discuss climate in 8th grade science classrooms. The NSF GK-12 program has helped to mitigate these issues by emphasizing climate change education and providing the resources and lesson plan ideas necessary to begin classroom implementation.

A major hurdle to climate change education in 8th grade classrooms is the standardized testing that is reserved for 8th graders that tests them on their knowledge from 6-8th grade science. As a result, 8th grade curriculum needs to encompass such broad topics as atomic structure, chemical reactions, the scientific method, mitosis and meiosis, Mendelian genetics, biological macromolecular structure, human anatomy and physiology, environment, ecology, climate, geology, planetary science, heat and energy transfer, engineering design, tools, and static truss construction. Given 9 months, with an hour of science class each weekday, these topics can be easily discussed and tested at a broad level. However, at the 8th grade level, students are required to develop an intensive science fair project all while having time for recess and for sports games and extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, the MCAS test is administered a whole 2 months early, leaving the actual classroom instruction time much closer to 6 months when vacation and shortened classes are taken into account. Within this incredibly short time frame, it is difficult to expound upon climate change within the 2 units to which it corresponds (ecology and climate).

Our strategy was incorporation of aspects of global change into each and every unit – introducing greenhouse gas molecules when talking about atoms, introducing genetic change and genetic engineering when talking about genetics, and showing an hour-long video about the impacts of global warming when talking about climate. While this has allowed students in our classroom to be consistently exposed to these ideas, it has required a significant amount of planning and curriculum reorganization. Without the impetus provided by the NSF GK-12 fellowship, this sort of large-scale planning would be daunting to an average science classroom in America.

As climate change is one of the most significant problems to be affecting humanity in the 21st century, it is up to the policy makers to a.) break up standardized testing between 7th and 8th grade and b.) implement climate change as a required topic to be covered in the 8th grade standardized exam. By implementing these changes, children will be able to learn all the required material at the appropriate pace and this issue will not be overshadowed by others due to lack of time. Without a solid understanding of climate and global warming at the middle school level, students will be set back in the timing of when they can act to analyze causes and develop solutions.

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