Please check out my new blog on climate change, and if it appeals to you, subscribe for future entries.
Please check out my new blog on climate change, and if it appeals to you, subscribe for future entries.
Few things seem to stir up people’s emotions more than the topic of climate change. Whether it’s the complex science or predicted disastrous scenarios, climate change causes confusion, fear, disagreement and malaise. However, the realization of what’s at stake is settling in. From the U.S. Defense Department’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review: “Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes … will devastate homes, land and infrastructure.” John Kerry recently described climate change in a speech to Indonesians as, “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent report said climate change is impacting our entire global community. Exaggeration? Hyperbole? Well, let’s review some basic science.
Carbon dioxide, CO2, is always mentioned when people speak of climate change. CO2 gas in our oceans and atmosphere is essential to living organisms. Plants through photosynthesis absorb carbon dioxide to make food (think carbohydrates) which provides energy to the plant and any other organism that consumes the plant. Carbon molecules in the food are then returned to the atmosphere and oceans as CO2 in a process called respiration. Carbon is also released when an organism decays. Simply put, carbon dioxide is constantly recycled and reused. Carbon dioxide is also critical in keeping our planet at a comfortable temperature. When the sun heats the Earth’s surface, CO2 traps some of the heat energy and prevents it from reradiating back into space. CO2 works pretty much like a blanket, and that is good under “normal” conditions.
Unfortunately, conditions are no longer “normal” and haven’t been since the industrial revolution. To power our economic engine (cars, planes, power plants, factories, etc.), we have extracted and burned “old” carbon stored as fossil fuels underground releasing 30 billion tons of CO2 each year. That is a lot of CO2. By burning fossil fuels, we’ve increased atmospheric CO2 levels from 316 parts per million in 1959 to 400 in 2013. CO2 levels are also rising in the oceans, resulting in increased oceanic acidity.
So what does this have to do with climate change? Well, 800,000 years of climate data show temperature and CO2 levels move together. When CO2 levels are low, temps are low. When CO2 levels are high, temps are high. Given that our CO2 levels have been steadily increasing for more than 150 years, it is no surprise our atmosphere and oceans are getting warmer. In essence, we’ve been adding extra heat trapping blankets in the atmosphere.
Here are some facts taken from the IPCC:
— Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the past 800,000 years. Carbon dioxide concentrations have increased primarily from fossil fuel emissions.
— The decline of Arctic sea ice in summer is occurring at a rate that exceeds most model projections.
— The ocean has absorbed about 30 percent of the emitted anthropogenic (from humans) carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.
— Sea level has risen.
— The past decade (2000-09) was the hottest on record.
I could go on. The science is clear, and nearly unanimous, with 98 percent of climate scientists saying humans are causing climate change. Rather than worry or argue, let’s take action. Contact government officials and elect politicians who understand climate change and are willing to take measures to solve the growing problem. Talk with friends and family members who are unconvinced about climate change, and remind people of the opportunities for new industries and jobs through renewable energies, water management, agricultural science and conservation practices. Finally, let’s each reduce our carbon footprint. After all, what kind of a world do we wish to leave our children and the generations that follow? We can and must do this.
A friend and former colleague shared a recent incident in her classroom that spoke volumes of the intended consequences teacher elicit through purposeful nurturance and guidance. Such actions don’t show up on a state measure, but rather subtly in a student’s behavior many days, months, and years beyond school. As my friend tells it,
My Business Law class enjoys lively conversations about contemporary issues. This past year I’ve noticed “reality show” behavior occurring in our discussions with incidents of insensitivity and inadvertent personal attacks. In response, I requested that we apply the yoga philosophy of Namaste, by showing respect and gratitude toward each other. One brilliant young man, whose aspiration is to become President, publicly corrected a factual error by a quiet young woman whose goal is just to graduate. Her error was calling Africa a country instead of a continent.
I asked to speak to him privately. We spoke about his aspirations of becoming President. I said he had been correct in his remark about Africa, but that the only result was that the quiet girl had shut down, rather than share her valuable insights. Her error may have been inadvertent and it had not impacted the conversation, but it did disengage her from any further discussion.
I suggested to my young future leader that reaching his goal will depend on maximizing the motivation and skills of others; he needed to use his talents to get the best out of the people. By applying the concept of Namaste, by honoring each other and recognizing that our lives are interrelated, people would feel valued and optimize their abilities. He would likewise be valued, instead of resented, and benefit from their successes and insights to become a more intuitive and wiser President. I have since noticed more respectful, mindful interactions from the young man.
And so it goes. Teaching students goes far beyond content and skills outlined in curriculum guides and standards. Good teaching develops the whole person for the betterment of society. This wonderful educator took a “teachable moment” and transformed students’ interactions. By focusing on respect and gratitude toward each other, her students were acquiring a deeper sense of social capital and harmony. That’s a good thing in today’s digital, fast-paced world.
“In like a lion, out like a lamb.” So goes the idiom for March weather. This year is different, however. My family lives in the exceptionally beautiful Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, and our winter is not ready to quit. Two feet of snow coating our yard and a winter weather advisory for tonight forecasting six inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain are reminders that Mother Nature sure has a good sense of humor. Well, sometimes she does. If you recall the early Chiffon commercials, Mother Nature also has an angry side when you mess with her.
Such is the case with our wild 2013 weather which is yet another indicator of climate change. Severe drought in California, blistering heat in Australia, unparalleled Typhoon Hainan that ravaged the Philippines, extreme flooding in England, and so on. We’re not fooling Mother Nature. Rather, we are fooling ourselves. Extracting fossil fuels (old carbon) from the earth and releasing them into the atmosphere to power our cars and factories, and heat our homes and businesses has disrupted the natural carbon cycle. The end result is an atmosphere with over 50% more CO2 than “normal”–And a pissed off Mother Nature.
There are messages everywhere revealing the precarious condition of the climate. We know them. We read about them. We watch them on the news. And then we disregard many of them unless they literally hit us over the head. I’m quite sure the residents of California, particularly the farmers, are very concerned about the climate. The same can be said for the Philippine victims who survived the Typhoon. A recent Bloomberg article on climate change had the line, “I wish it weren’t so, but forewarned is forearmed.” Mother Nature is warning us, “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature.” Let’s do the right thing for all species of life that inhabit this lovely planet by leaving a legacy we can be proud of, not one that has future generations wondering “What were they thinking??”
Next blog entry we will explore what the “right things” are.
MOOC. The word rolls off the tongue so easily, belying its complex and controversial nature. For some, MOOCs are a long-awaited digital opportunity to make college accessible and affordable for the masses. To others, it is a threat to all that is the college experience. Regardless of one’s position, MOOCs have arrived and are changing the education conversation and experience. To speak more knowledgeably about the topic, I decided to venture into the world of MOOCs and experience the pros and cons by taking a four-week long Coursera class titled, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided.” From Coursera, This MOOC brings together renowned scientists to provide a synthesis of the most recent scientific evidence and presents an analysis of likely impacts and risks, with a focus on developing countries. Perfect topic, perfect length of time. What follows are my impressions.
Starting with the pros, I found the content outstanding. The course was laid out in a comfortably sequential manner starting week one with scientific background on the history and present state of climate change. Week two looked at possible 21st Century climates based on different projections. Week three explored the impacts on life and societies in a 4 Celsius warmer world, and week four was about solutions. Throughout the course, there were outstanding videos, excellent reading passages, and a fairly active discussion board (With nearly 20,000 registrants, it wasn’t hard to find discussion strands to participate in). Since most of the materials came from the World Bank, the readings and videos were well prepared and researched.
Activities were appropriate for the medium. Our first exercise was to evaluate and write a 400 word essay on one of three recent climate change news articles from either The Guardian, New York Times, or a Press Release from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We were asked to evaluate the author’s knowledge through his or her prior works, credibility of resources used by the author, publication readership and implications for the author, and how thorough the article addressed climate change. For the second activity, we were directed to interview an individual either in our community or fellow Coursera student regarding how we prerceive present and future climate change impacts on us and our community, and what are solutions to the climate change problem. We were to summarize the results into a 400 word essay. Our last task was to create a web-based digital artifact or resource that would summarize the most important things we’ve learned in the course.
My two favorite activities were the interview task and final project. The highlight of the interview project was being interviewed by a gentleman from the Philippines who was a government employee. It was really neat to Skype with this man who lived halfway across the globe. Given the recent horrific events of Typhoon Haiyan that ravaged his country, the issues of climate change were real and palpable. That said, we had a really pleasant interview session and talked about other things besides climate change during our meeting including the cold, snow winter we’re having in Upstate New York. I also appreciated the Final Project because it offered students a variety of options to choose from (We know from Cognitive Psychology the value of choice). I considered making a YouTube video, creating a podcast, developing a Wiggio group, or building a Prezi and sharing it publicly (I’m sure there are more digital options out there, but for this baby boomer, I was tapped out on ideas). I ended up using this blog as my medium for a project on people’s concerns/fears regarding climate change.
There were a number of cons to my MOOC experience. First and foremost, online learning with 20,000 others is an overall lonely experience. It’s mostly just you and the computer. Since the content was familiar to me, I didn’t need to ask questions or ask for elaboration on any particular concepts. However, were this unfamiliar material, I would have struggled and spent many more hours than the 12-20 hours projected to complete the course resolving questions without direct contact with instructors. I also dislike discussion boards. Sorry, but my 55 year old brain prefers to talk face to face with people. A few posts are fine, but I find the time it takes to type something and wait for responses wasteful. I’d much prefer to sit with a group of individuals and hash it out, whatever the topic. So, online course work can be a lonely experience for some.
A second serious concern was the course’s method of evaluation. In this class, our content knowledge was assessed following completion of readings and video viewings. As mentioned earlier, the content was excellent. However, the quizzes were approximately 20 questions long with rigor primarily at the knowledge and comprehension levels. The best part for those struggling with the content was that you got to get a second chance at the quiz! Now, I’m a firm believer in make up tests, but with the use of digital technology, one could easily earn a 100 on every test by simply saving feedback from the first round. That may not matter for a free MOOC, but when you are paying for a class or taking them from an accredited institution, this evaluation format would not be sufficient.
The final problem I experienced was with peer assessments. Besides quiz grades, all projects are peer assessed using rubrics provided by the instructors. I enjoyed doing the assessments and giving feedback to my classmates. Unfortunately, I don’t believe some of my classmates felt as I did regarding peer feedback. In fact, for my article review project, I got a 50% (score of 2 in a 3-point rubric) with no feedback at all. I spent a lot of time on the project, and in my humble opinion, felt it warranted more than a “50″ score, and so I complained to my teachers:). Surprisingly, they responded and gave me a higher grade with nice feedback. Grades aside, one needs useful, valid and reliable feedback on their assessments, and to suggest that one or two of 20,000 students could provide such feedback is a stretch. But hey, this was a free class, so I’m okay with it.
Overall, I’d give my MOOC experience a solid B. What does that mean? I guess that depends on your situation. For me, I enjoyed the MOOC–particularly the fact that it was free. Many hours clearly went into organizing the content, projects, and structure. The curriculum was A+, and some of the classmates were stellar. I learned some new things about climate change, and I also got to interact with people I otherwise never would have met. Were I living in a more remote region with MOOCs as my only connection to course content, then I’d reckon this course would earn an overall “A”. MOOCs fill a need, and though they can’t compete with a true college experience, they can be tremendously useful to the self-directed learner.
Well, gotta go now and check whether or not Coursera has set a date for reoffering my next MOOC class, Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Change Conversations!
There was a time when science, social studies, and other non-English Language Arts teachers were exempt from teaching literacy in their classes. Aside from performance based subjects (arts, tech…), rote memorization of content was mattered greatly and the notion of close reading, writing from sources, text-based evidence, and disparate viewpoints and positions was unfathomed. For many, chugging through the core curricula via a favorite textbook or select set of readings got one from September to June. Fast forward to the Common Core State Standards era and today EVERYONE has responsibility to teach literacy within their subject areas. Not surprisingly, teachers are embracing the changes when given adequate time to develop the necessary understandings and skills literacy instruction require.
To help educators make the shift to literacy instruction, last week a friend and colleague of mine at Capital Region BOCES presented a session on Climate Change and the Common Core to a group of 25 science, social studies, and ELA teachers (Six participants were MST students from SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury). Laura Lehtonen is the BOCES Science Director, and like me, strives to help educators incorporate rigor and relevance into classroom instruction while also meeting state-mandated curricula. For our workshop, we decided to look at the Common Core Literacy Instructional Shifts through the lens of Climate Change. Climate change was our chosen topic given the misinformation, confusion, and at times, ignorance about climate change swirling among this great nation’s populace.
Our day began with a 90 minute Climate Reality presentation which describes the process of global warming and the impacts of climate change on extreme weather and drought events, rising sea levels, melting of glaciers and ice caps, dwindling food production and potable water supplies, and spread of tropical diseases. We followed the melancholic Climate Reality session with the Common Core Instructional Shifts, and then had participants practice a number of fun and engaging literacy-based strategies.
Participants investigated and interpreted the message of climate change cartoons, practiced and responded to text-based questions, jigsawed a Royal Society publication on Climate Change and Causes, and reviewed evidence based claims. My favorite activity was the 4 A’s protocol (see below) from EngageNY which includes close reading, text-dependent questioning, use of evidence, and discussion strategies required by the Common Core. For that activity, participants evaluated first the Climate Reality presentation given in the morning, and in the afternoon an opinion piece by Charles Krauthammer Op-Ed piece, Observing ‘settled science’. Though one may not agree with another’s opinions, it matters little without critical inspection of the piece (think close reading, evidence based facts… ala 4A’s Protocol).
Armed with a good understanding of climate change, our participants scrutinized Krauthammer’s op-ed piece and found a number of assumptions made by the author including confusing “unsettled science” correlations of climate change science and mammogram studies, changing climate change predictions as a flaw of climate prediction models, suggesting climate change scientists spend all their time in white lab coats in front of computer screens, and citing one physicist’s interpretations of climate change as a non-urgent matter while disregarding 98% of the world’s scientists including those on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who state climate change is a problem and anthropogenic in origin. There was agreement that climate change science is complicated, and some participants were interested in checking Krauthammer’s data more deeply, including claims that global temperature hasn’t risen in 15 years or that there are fewer intense tornadoes than in previous years.
The beauty of close reading, text-based evidence, and other shifts of the Common Core State Standards is the promotion of critical thinking. Charles Krauthammer is an excellent writer, and it was an interesting and satisfying experience for participants to use what they learned to verify facts from fiction. Whatever the topic one teaches, the beauty of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for non-ELA teachers is the opportunity to engage students in greater rigor and relevant activities. Activities that demand students read text closely and use evidence to support their positions, whatever their positions may be. By implementing CCSS, we are in effect empowering students to use evidence to speak, read, and write with conviction. And that’s a very good thing for the future of our global society.
Last week our Teachers As Instructional Leaders Seminar Series met at the SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Branch Campus to review Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We’re a small group of eight creative, self-directed teachers seeking strategies and understandings to grow our skills as teacher leaders and better serve their students and schools. The Covey session was not originally listed in our six-session Series, but was added at the group’s request following a brief discussion about Covey in an earlier meeting. After a quick review of the habits, we brainstormed simple examples of what the 7 Habits look like for teachers and teacher leaders. I then asked the group to look at the habits through the lens of school reform. See below for minutes of this thoughtful group. Enjoy.
Habit One: Be Proactive
Habit Two: Begin With The End In Mind
Habit Three: Put First Things First
Building Up The Emotional Bank Account
Habit Four: Think Win-Win
Habit Five: Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood
Habit Six: Synergy
Some of Our Teacher Leader Contributors:
Nicole Dixson, Rebecca Harke, Gwynne Cosh, Nicole Fortier