By Michaela Labriole
When it comes to teaching young learners about climate change, educators have to walk a fine line. After all, the scientific data on climate change and its potential effects can seem scary and overwhelming, and we don’t want to intimidate children. But at the same time, we don’t want to over-simplify or provide incorrect information. Because walking this line often seems daunting, many people think that it isn’t possible or appropriate to teach young students about climate change. At the New York Hall of Science, however, we interviewed our teenage interns and found that these students want to know more about climate change and are confused by the conflicting media reports about what is happening to Earth’s climate.
At NYSCI, the education department took on the challenge of creating a program that would be accessible to families with young children, but at the same time provide real scientific information. To meet this challenge, we created the Citizen Scientists: Tree Trackers! program as part of our C3 project. Families and individuals were invited to NYSCI for a fun, hands-on training. During the training, we started with the basic difference between climate and weather. Even our youngest trainees were able to tell us what the weather was like during the different seasons. We then talked about how the climate might be changing locally and went on a nature walk to explore the local Flushing Meadows Corona Park to look for living things that might be affected by climate change. By the end of the training, our citizen scientists had learned how to make observations about life cycle changes in local trees and upload their observations to the Project Budburst website. We even had time for our youngest Tree Trackers to make a bird feeder.
After the training, participants are still able to keep in touch via our social networking site where they can talk, upload pictures, and find fun family activities to do while they are out making their observations. By combining hands-on activities and crafts with the basics of climate science, we created a program that was fun for even very young learners but also incorporated real science and citizen participation. This is just one of the ways that NYSCI is working to communicate climate change, but it goes to show that even young children can become involved in learning more about our climate and working to mitigate climate change.
Michaela Labriole is a science instructor at the New York Hall of Science, Queens.