Teachers learn climate dynamics at workshop

Scott L. Miley | CNHI News IndianaParticipants at the Dynamics of Climate Workshop, hosted by Carmel Green Initiative, pretended to be carbon atoms and rolled dice to portray traveling in eras before and after the industrial revolution to understand how humans contribute to the carbon cycle.

WESTFIELD — If science and biology teacher Brad Ruff can find ways to introduce the variables of weather into his classroom lessons, he thinks it might help students better grasp global climate topics.

"I really want to learn methods on how to effectively challenge a student's thinking to get them to see things from a different perspective," said Ruff, who teaches eighth-graders at Benton Central Jr.-Sr. High School northwest of Lafayette.

"In other words, I'd like them to develop more of a sense of empathy with regards to climate. That's very tricky," he said.

Ruff was among 14 participants this week at the two-day Dynamics of Climate Workshop hosted by Carmel Green Initiative. The workshop was held at the Westfield Washington Public Library in northern Hamilton County.

"We believe climate literacy is important for everyone," said Leslie Webb, president and co-founder of Carmel Green Initiative. "Young people especially have the right to be informed about projected climate changes and solutions to mitigate the worst impacts on their future."

In addition to earth science and biology teachers, participants included a member of a Mennonite church who wants to green up his congregation, a nature interpreter from the Indianapolis Zoo and a Westfield student who is considering a college major in environmental studies.

"I've always been interested in the environment, especially with it becoming a more prevalent concern for my generation," Joshua Fassnacht, an incoming Westfield High School senior, said. "I want to be part of the solution to keep the earth sustainable and habitable."

Girl Scout troop leader Gayle Lucka said she hopes to apply the workshop to youth programs.

Lucka, whose daughter is in the scouting organization, said, "As the girls get older they need to be challenged. So much of the reason that I have her in Girl Scouts is the education that she receives outside of school."

Using a toolkit developed by Purdue professors, first-day workshop leaders went over the basics of climate, the greenhouse effect and how to interpret climate data.

The second day got into lesson plans and community action tips, including a report from Purdue Climate Change Research Center Operations Manager Melissa Widhalm. The Purdue center is in the midst of releasing 10 studies about the impact of climate change on Indiana.

In one exercise, participants were asked to stand by signs with one-sentence descriptions of their takes on climate. Most stood by signs indicating they were concerned about biodiversity.

Only one teacher from a district southwest of Indianapolis stood by the sign reading, “I don’t believe that climate change is real.” He said he was next to the sign because he estimated that 40 percent of his students held that sentiment.

Teachers were encouraged by workshop facilitators to avoid doom-and-gloom scenarios in the classroom by presenting data to students to seek ways to address or adapt to climate-related dangers such as droughts or flooding. Showing that students can contribute to solutions is important, they said.

"Have you actually pictured what Carmel, what your hometown will look like when it's on renewable energy in 25 years?" Stacey Summitt-Mann, a biology teacher at University High School of Indiana, asked. "Sometimes when spinning it the right way you get less of the anxiety and more of the excitement when they can be part of that solution."

Indiana's academic standards for environmental science include the exploration of factors that influence weather and climate, and identifying the "indirect and direct threats to biodiversity — including habitat loss and destruction, invasion by exotic species, commercial overfishing and hunting, pollution, climate change, and bioaccumulation and biomagnification of toxins," according to the Department of Education website.

Summitt-Mann acknowledged that the task can be daunting for educators in presenting constantly updated data concerning the climate.

"Every time I turn on the radio, there's a current event that I want to insert in class but I don't yet feel knowledgeable enough to have that discussion with them," she said.

"I started to just ... say what do you guys know about this and letting that flow back and forth instead of trying to always be the expert in the room. And I’ve learned a lot from them," she said.

Contact CNHI Statehouse Reporter Scott L. Miley at smiley@cnhi.com.

Learn about Solarize initiatives at workshop

INDIANAPOLIS — Solarize Indiana will hold a training workshop on Saturday, June 22, at Englewood Christian Church, 57 North Rural Street, Indianapolis.

The training is open to anyone around the state who is interested in joining or starting a Solarize initiative in their community.

Solarize Indiana is a network of local teams of volunteers who hold public information sessions and provide connections to competitively pre-selected installers that each team determines may offer the best value on equipment, price, and other factors.

For information, RSVP to solarizeindiana@gmail.com.

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