cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Friday, June 7, 2019

How I Started the Lowell Faculty Seminar on the Climate Emergency (and how you can too)

Towards the end of school, there's the narrowest of windows between the end of AP testing and the beginning of final exams when teachers at my school can sort of catch our breath. It's a week or two of relative down time for review and synthesizing and studying which reminds me of my beloved Reading Period at Princeton.

This year, I decided to put a stake in the ground and create an event so that our faculty community can make better use of this moment to collaborate in an interdisciplinary way on how we teach and learn about the climate crisis.

I have been reading and thinking about Project Drawdown's web site and NYT best selling book Drawdown, so I wrote a grant for a pilot project to get fifteen of our 200 faculty and staff together to help each other integrate climate change into our teaching.

The response was tremendous! So I wrote this blog post as a guide for myself and for anybody else who is like-minded about how I organized this faculty-led PD program -- and how you can do this with your faculty too.

In May, I ordered 15 copies of Drawdown and sent out this e-mail blast to the faculty inviting them to the Lowell Faculty Seminar on the Climate Emergency:
Hello colleagues -- 
   A new NPR/Ipsos poll shows that 86% of teachers say that students should learn about climate change... but only 42% teach it.  
   Because of this, it seems like the #1 thing we as a faculty can start doing about climate change is to talk about it -- and help each other understand it better.  
    So if you would like to read, learn, & discuss climate change with other Lowell teachers in a friendly, interdisciplinary way, then please join us (K__, C__, and E__, to start with) in the new Lowell Faculty Seminar on the Climate Emergency (aka the climate change book club).  
   SO, AFTER AP EXAMS -- To start things rolling, we will read and discuss Project Drawdown's NYT best selling book, Drawdown: The 100 most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming: 
   This is a global problem so all are welcome! 
   Our short-term hope is to develop a common understanding, vocabulary, and framework for talking about climate change among the faculty. Our longer-term goal is to evolve some form of ongoing PD to help us integrate climate change across the curriculum. 
   GOOD NEWS! Thanks to A__'s and S__'s expert budget planning, we have 15 copies of Drawdown for teacher-participants who would like to join in this effort.
Please reply to this e-mail and let me know if you would like to join us (and if you would like to reserve a book).  
Elizabeth (Dr. S -- room 274) 
I received about 20 yeses, of which 15 turned out to be viable. During my prep blocks, I went around distributing books and introducing myself to staff across the faculty and across the campus who were interested. It was great to meet colleagues in English, Social Studies, Ethnic Studies, Peer Resources, World Languages, Academic Counseling, and Physical Education who were thinking about the climate crisis too, in addition to us nerds in math and science.

We used a Doodle poll to find an available after-school hour and I sent out a message confirming time and place and logistics. Everyone committed to reading the three introductory sections of Drawdown in preparation for our kickoff meeting.

The first meeting focused on introductions, intentions, and the basic science of the climate crisis. Our goal was/is to map out topics, strategies, and projects on which we could collaborate over the next year in our work together. Many other teachers who were not available for our kickoff meeting also expressed interest in these conversations over the next year.

In an interdisciplinary context, it felt essential to make sure that everybody -- including colleagues in non-quantitative fields -- felt equally empowered by the science rather than intimidated. I served as the seminar leader and ran the agenda, even though it was intimidating to do so in front of our two National Board Certified AP Environmental Sciences teachers and a number of other accomplished science teachers.

One benefit of my being the one to lead the meeting -- as a math teacher, meditator, writer, Black Student Union advisor, and member of the school's equity leadership team -- was that I could bring slightly different lenses to the process of discussing the climate.


I asked for the group's indulgence to begin with a slightly different opening ritual than we usually use at our PWAI (Predominantly White and Asian Institution)  -- a LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENT.  We stood and I read this draft of our statement:
Before we begin...
We pause to acknowledge that Lowell sits on the traditional lands of the Ohlone people, who are the indigenous stewards of this beautiful place we teach and learn on. We acknowledge their ancient and federally unrecognized claim on this land, their enslavement in our city, and our own uncomfortable role in this history. We do this to pay respect to all Ohlone people, past, present, and future.
This led to an amazing and heartfelt discussion. We talked about the fact that we have Native Americans in all parts of our school -- on the faculty, in our staff, in our alumni community, and in our student body -- and that this is something we need to acknowledge in order for everybody to feel seen and included.

The faculty of color at our meeting expressed surprise that they had not previously experienced this kind of ritual at an official school event, and everyone expressed interest in having us integrate these acknowledgments into our future events as well.

For many of us, it has been years since we've formally studied the science of climate change, so it seemed important to set our initial level of understanding. I used this video by noted climate scientist and explainer, Katharine Hayhoe, of Texas Tech University to kick off our discussion of the science:

We followed this up with an open discussion as well as questions from the non-science teachers. The "1.5 to 2 degrees" limit proved to be a very fruitful hook which everybody was eager to use in their pedagogical thinking.

A big part of introducing the climate crisis into our pedagogy involves using current and appropriate language for framing our discussions. This brief opinion piece by the Environment Editor of The Guardian newspaper gave our English teacher member an on-ramp to lead the next part of our discussion:
What role do our language choices -- both conscious and unconscious -- play in how we teach and learn about the climate crisis? Is it sufficient to call it "climate change" or is it more accurate to use terms like "climate emergency"?

T__ was particularly interested in using this op-ed with her Critical Writing classes, although everybody wanted to do more thinking about the effects of the language we use, so we stuck a pin in this as a topic we would like to collaborate on over the next year of our meetings.

Even though we teach and learn together in liberal San Francisco, which is an admittedly friendly context for mobilizing about science, we all admitted frustration over the frequency with which we encouter climate science denialism.

I introduced the free, self-paced MOOC (massive open online course) I have started taking from edX, offered by the University of Queensland in Australia, called Making Sense of Climate Science Denial:
In particular, their chart on the five characteristics of science denial found immediate fans and a home in our soon-to-be-revised Critical Writing course:
FLICC acronym (Fake experts, Logical fallacies, Impossible expectations, Cherry picking, Conspiracy theories)
Several colleagues promptly expressed their intention to take this course over the summer.

The New York Times provided a timely article from the previous day about how the Trump administration is doubling down on its attacks on climate science:
 This prompted a discussion about how we can integrate current news stories into our curriculum.

We set our intention to meet monthly during the next school year and also to set up an e-mail alias for ease of communications.

Over the next two weeks, I heard from so many participants and soon-to-be participants about how valuable they felt this was. It really drove home the message of Katharine Hayhoe's viral TED talk: that the most important thing we citizens -- and particularly teachers -- can do about the climate emergency is to start talking about it.

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing. YOU are amazing. Thank you for sharing this. On the same day I read this (came to my inbox), this was also in my inbox. Have you bumped into the Quantitative Environmental Learning Project? Seems like a good cross curricular resource.