Cooperative Institute for Alaska Research

Climate Change Course for K-12 Teachers

In summer 2008, researchers from CIFAR and UAF’s Center for Global Change (CGC) created and led a novel, hands-on, intensive week-long course in climate change at the NOAA Kasitsna Bay Laboratory (KBL) near Homer, Alaska. Students in this pilot program received graduate or undergraduate credit through UAF. They included three teachers from small rural K-12 schools in Alaska, an Alaska resident interested in setting up a citizen environmental monitoring program, and two teachers from large high schools in Virginia and South Carolina.

group photo at K-Bay

Instructors were Susan Sugai and John Walsh (CGC/CIFAR), Reid Brewer (Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program), and David Atkinson (International Arctic Research Center). Students learned how to use NOAA and other websites to obtain climate and weather data specific to their location of interest, acquired hands-on experience setting up monitoring transects, and developed their own classroom projects that were presented to the class. Thus, research outcomes and operational products were intimately intertwined in teachers’ lesson plans. For example, the project developed by a teacher from St. George Island, Alaska, for a multi-grade elementary classroom, allows students to explore the origins of sea ice and its movement around the Bering Sea. Students will use local traditional knowledge from their elders and compare that information with NOAA data to determine ice levels, placement, and movement over the past 25 years in the Bering Sea. Using both sources of data on sea ice conditions, the students will be able to draw conclusions about short-term changes in climate.

Valuable connections were forged between researchers and teachers, and between teachers from within and outside Alaska, to better communicate the effects of observed and anticipated climate change. K-12 teachers, and by extension their students, were introduced to the value of archived research data and forecasting products and how to utilize them for studies of local importance.

Course organizers at CGC/CIFAR hope to offer the course when funding and schedules permit.