Teaching Outdoor Educators About Climate Change

With the Fourth National Climate Assessment and IPCC’s Special Report both released last year, there is increasing interest from educators and teachers to incorporate climate change into their science curriculum. However, they often lack the training and resources to do so. To address this, the 2018 Washington State Legislature allocated $4 million of the general fund to create ClimeTime, which is essentially a state-level science teacher training program focused on climate science education. Since this is a relatively new program, many schools and education programs are still in need of immediate training to effectively and accurately incorporate climate change education into their curriculum. Responding to this need, the Program Coordinator of the Waskowitz Outdoor Education Center, located in North Bend, WA, but owned and operated by the Highline School District in the Burien area, reached out to the UW’s Program on Climate Change requesting a professional development workshop.  Ten outdoor educators provide environmental education in an outdoor setting to a wide array of age groups, ranging from fourth graders to high schoolers. Their request could not have come at a more opportune time for me. Knowing I was open to capstone ideas, Miriam asked me to join her and Dana Campbell, a professor at UW Bothell, to develop and facilitate the day-long workshop at Waskowitz Outdoor Education Center. With my background in environmental education and my passion for science communication, I agreed! Plus, this capstone idea seemed like a great opportunity for me to work on my facilitation skills in a low-risk environment.

Ashley Bagley
Waskowitz outdoor educators discuss the global carbon cycle as part of their one day workshop.

Now that my capstone project was settled, I communicated directly with the Program Coordinator to get a baseline understanding of the outdoor educators’ knowledge about climate change and to understand what they wanted from the workshop. After a couple of emails back and forth with the Program Coordinator, I identified my main goals for the workshop:1) increase the outdoor educator’s knowledge of climate change; 2) help the outdoor educators generate ideas for sharing climate information with their students; and 3) empower the outdoor educators to seek additional information on climate change. To achieve these goals, I maintained regular communication with the Program Coordinator to share content and get feedback to ensure the information we ended up presenting was salient and useful for the outdoor educators. Additionally, I consulted with Mark Windschitl, a professor of Science Teaching and Learning at UW Seattle, to guarantee the workshop design was engaging.  Lastly, I researched and synthesized key concepts and data on climate change to develop the workshop outline. Ultimately, we decided to cover the following concepts: the causes and evidence, the global carbon cycle, consequences, projected Pacific Northwest consequences, and individual actions/solutions. Additionally, the Program Coordinator asked us to provide examples of existing monitoring programs that they might be able to assist with. Therefore, we added a session in the workshop to review monitoring programs within Puget Sound.

As part of the capstone project, evaluating the communication component is essential. So similar to many capstone projects before me, I developed a pre-workshop and post-workshop survey. The pre-workshop survey was focused on having the educators reflect on their own perceptions and knowledge of the causes and consequences of climate change, as well as monitoring programs they are interested in. Whereas the post-workshop survey sought to measure any changes in the educators’ conceptual understanding of climate change, whether they found the content to be valuable, and solicit any additional comments or suggestions. Through conversations with other graduate students who used hand-written surveys, I decided to use SurveyMonkey to deliver and evaluate the survey responses. Personally, I found having the responses already in electronic form streamlined the analysis and made it easier to visualize the results.

Ashley Bagley
Three Waskowitz outdoor educators play the global carbon cycle game during the workshop.

The single most exciting result was that every single educators’ confidence level in teaching climate related topics increased after the workshop! Additionally, the global carbon cycle game we played with them as part of the carbon cycle session was found to be of most value to all the educators. Originally designed as part of a Communicating Climate Course by the Lawrence Hall of Science, it is an excellent tool for demonstrating the impact of fossil fuel burning. Waskowitz educators readily identified ways the game could be adapted and used within their curriculum to explain the carbon cycle to their students.

I believe this capstone project should be considered a pilot project for the UW’s Program on Climate Change professional development for environmental educators, expanding existing programs working with high school science teachers.  Future workshops should  be broken into two days to allow for the information presented on the first day to sink in and permit further group discussion. It is important to create space for the workshop participants to have conversations about the complex climate change concepts being presented because it fosters critical thinking. It also allows the participants to understand and view climate change from different perspectives.  Lastly, the needs of particular audiences should always be considered when adapting this workshop content to the needs of other groups.

Overall, this capstone project substantially increased the educators’ knowledge of climate change, altered their perceptions on the state of climate science, facilitated meaningful dialogue among the educators, provided them with climate related resources, and empowered them to research further on topics that interest them.

Ashley Bagley recently graduated from the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs in Spring 2019. This workshop was developed in partial fulfillment of a Graduate Certificate in Climate Science. Ashley plans to stay in Washington and hopes to work on salmon recovery within the Salish Sea.