When building for a warming climate, does a cement parking lot or a tree-lined garden help keep temperatures low?
These were the types of questions that seventh grade students from Garwood were trying to answer in innovative new program hosted by the New Jersey School of Conservation last week.
Climate change may seem like an impossibly large challenge for anyone to tackle – much less middle schoolers. How can we, as a society, rebuild our entire economy around principles like sustainability powered by green energy?
To empower students, as opposed to overwhelming them, the School of Conservation is rolling out a number of educational programs that break the existential threat of climate change into more easily understandable concepts – in this case, how the so-called heat island effect can exacerbate the impact of climate change and how using different building materials can help lower temperatures in their own communities.
This new program is part of the School’s efforts to lead the state in implementing New Jersey’s new climate change educational standards, which call for students to learn about the climate crisis across different classes.
At the School of conservation, students learned about the heat island effect and then, armed with thermometers, were asked to take the temperature of various materials within Stokes State Forest, from trees to different soils and building materials. They then returned to the classroom to discuss their findings and suggest retrofits to their school to lower temperatures.
“These types of hands-on experiences are critical to helping young learners understand how the climate crisis is impacting their communities – and more important show them that actions they take can help make a positive difference,” said education director Tanya Sulikowski. “By getting out of the classroom and into nature we hope to inspire students to be more curious about the world around them and understand that they can play a positive role in responding to environmental threats, like climate change.”
This is just one of several new curricula pioneered by the School, which worked with career educators to design lesson plans that would engage young learners while empowering them to take action in their communities.
Another of their newly developed classes provides a framework for students to express their thoughts and emotions about climate change through ephemeral art and poetry. Inspired by Amanda Gorman’s, Youth Poet Laureate of the United States, poem called “Earthrise”, this course follows a similar framework to the School’s Nature Art and Poetry class.
“We’re so excited to have had the opportunity to return to the School of Conservation after a break during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said KC Bree from Garwood. “Our students’ imaginations are engaged by being out in nature. We were happy to help pioneer this new lesson on climate change as we try to engage our students on this important issue.”
The School hopes that teachers will take these lesson plans back to their classrooms and use them as tools to engage more students on climate issues.