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Workshop Guides Florida Educators On Teaching Climate Change And Its Human Impacts

Lauren Chesrown, a a lab science teacher at Jensen Beach Elementary in Martin County, talks with climate change education workshop leader Bill Bigelow.
Kate Stein
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida teachers are eager to teach kids about sea-level rise, rising heat and other impacts of climate change, but many say it can be hard to find engaging and in-depth information in their textbooks or the state curriculum.

A workshop on Wednesday offered about 30 Florida educators ideas and resources for climate education.

"The overall goal is to get teachers ... to teach in a way that's deep, that teaches students to ask questions," said workshop leader Bill Bigelow, a former Oregon high school teacher who co-wrote a book on teaching climate change. He said he wants to help teachers give students "a sense that they're not spectators to the future" through activities that encourage creativity and curiosity about the changing climate.

The teachers and other educators spent the day at the Pine Jog Environmental Education Center in West Palm Beach, participating in discussions and activities that several said they plan to take back to their classrooms.

In one, participants were assigned the identity of someone who has a stake in the climate crisis -- for example, an activist from the Marshall Islands watching her country being swallowed by the rising sea, an Oregon apple farmer suffering from drought, or a Russian oil tycoon who wants to keep drilling in the Arctic. They then had in-character conversations about shared problems, points of conflict and possible solutions.

Workshop leader Bill Bigelow said he wants to help teachers give students "a sense that they're not spectators to the future."
Credit Kate Stein / WLRN
The Florida Channel
Workshop leader Bill Bigelow said he wants to help teachers give students "a sense that they're not spectators to the future."

Read more: Temperatures In Florida Are Rising. For Vulnerable Patients, The Heat Can Be Life-Threatening.

Later, Bigelow showed the group a video of the Marshall Islands poet Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner  reciting her poem "Tell Them We Are Nothing Without Our Islands," and asked participants to write a brief poem about the human impacts of climate change.

Lauren Chesrown, a lab science teacher at Jensen Beach Elementary in Martin County, called the poem activity "powerful."

"The whole room had something to say," she said.

Chesrown added that many of her students are already passionate about learning how environmental challenges impact people, thanks to their experiences with the blue-green algae blooms that have plagued Florida's coasts. During the outbreaks, Chesrown said, many kids in Martin County aren't able to fish or surf. She gets a lot of questions about why.

The kids "would be amazed to find out worldwide how people are affected by climate change," she said.

The workshop also included several discussion components, where the educators looked at a social studies textbook and evaluated how well it explains climate change. The consensus was: not very well. Participants pointed out a flawed scientific explanation and other problems like the absence of human stories that might interest students and a lack of connection to students' lives.

They also said there needs to be more discussion of climate change as an equity issue: many of the people most impacted by climate change -- farmers who lose their crops to floods, low-income people who can't afford air conditioning -- are the people who can least afford the costs of adaptation.

Read more: Miami, Miami-Dade Partner To Install Air Conditioners In Public Housing

Bigelow said he wants teachers and students alike to focus on responding to climate change -- not sitting aside or assigning blame.

"They can play a role" in helping the world adapt, he said.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.