My Country Added Climate to the Curriculum. Now the Real Work Starts

Educator Camile Clarke wrote this post.

Looking back, I cannot help but think that I was destined to be some sort of climate activist. I always loved the outdoors as a child, so it should have come as no surprise when I told my parents I wanted to study geology. When I got to high school, I clearly remember learning about global warming. I immediately thought to myself, This is going to be a big thing in the future, and they are going to need people who know about it. A former social studies teacher graciously allowed me to sit in on her geography lessons, and my love of the earth sciences only grew from there. At this point I made the decision to study geology and geography at university. Now, I am a geography teacher at Port Antonio High School in Jamaica.

Climate change became a special interest of mine at university. I’d spend hours reading or watching documentaries to learn more about it. If I was given the chance in one of my courses to do a project, you bet I’d find some way to make it about climate change and its impacts. I also took a part-time job as a field geologist for Geophysx Jamaica, a sustainability-minded company exploring locally for rare earth metals, copper, and gold. Rare earth metals are a key component of many climate solutions that will lead to a low-carbon future.

Every path I took involved climate change directly or indirectly. However, learning about the science of climate change wasn’t enough for me. I realized I had to do something with this knowledge. In 2015 I learned basic electrical installation and how to install solar panels. In 2019 my family and I started growing our own food and have even participated in and won gardening competitions. In 2020 I was recognized as one of 10 UN CC:Learn Champions after sharing my story of how learning about climate change had inspired me to take action. This recognition motivated me to officially become a climate activist by becoming a Climate Reality Leader.

Camile learns to install solar panels through a course at Jamaica’s
Vocational Training Development Institute. Courtesy of Camile Clarke

In my mission to learn more about climate change, I enrolled in the National Geographic course “Teaching Global Climate Change in Your Classroom” in 2019. At the time I was completing my master of education degree in curriculum and instruction and working as a field geologist. Before completing the course, my focus had always been on the science of climate change and mitigation and adaptation strategies in agriculture. My parents are farmers (my dad is an agricultural science teacher as well), and I grew up observing how climate change impacted operations on the farm.

I had previously done courses on climate change, and I expected this to be simply another course to add to my collection. I had no idea it would change my focus and reframe my direction in learning about climate change.

The first thing that struck me about the course was that it presented material on the science of climate change with which I was unfamiliar. That humbled me. I thought I had already learned what I needed to know to be an effective teacher. I realized then that research on climate science and climate change education is being continuously published. If I were to effectively prepare my students for the world in the face of a changing climate, I would need to continually reassess my content and strategies. To stay up-to-date on the science of climate change and content you can use to teach it, I recommend the courses offered by UN CC:e-Learn. To learn new ways of teaching about global climate change, I also recommend National Geographic’s other courses, including “Connecting the Geo-Inquiry Process to Your Teaching Practice” and “Mapping as a Visualization and Communication Tool in Your Classroom.”

For her final submission in “Teaching Global Climate Change in Your Classroom,” Camile developed the following two-hour lesson exploring the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events, focusing on recent hurricanes and bushfires in the Caribbean:

As a teacher based in the Caribbean, I always taught from a Caribbean perspective. The course allowed me to interact with teachers from across the globe and see how they taught climate change from their own unique perspectives. This was eye-opening. I realized that, if we are to help our students become global citizens, we must teach them how to view the world from different perspectives. Only then can real collaboration take place to come up with worthwhile solutions.

As part of National Geographic’s “Teaching Global Climate Change in Your Classroom” course, Camile created this graphic representing the effects of climate change in her home country of Jamaica. Courtesy of Camile Clarke

My experience in the course prompted me to make an about-turn on the research topic for my master’s degree. I had started out looking at disruptive behaviors in the classroom. After doing the course, I adopted a completely new topic at a rather late stage in my program. My new focus was the experiences of social studies teachers teaching global climate change. The switch didn’t concern me too much, as I knew I would have no problem spending hours hyperfocused on this special topic.

I recently participated in a conference organized by the Association of Graduate Researchers in Education, based at the University of the West Indies, and presented the findings of my study.

I had taught social studies and become concerned with the lack of climate change coverage in the syllabus at grades 10 and 11. However, climate change was recently included in Jamaica’s new National Standards Curriculum and is expected to be taught in grade eight.

Five teachers of varying levels of experience participated in the study, all of whom were teaching social studies classes, spanning grades eight to 12. The findings of my study revealed that teachers had little to no exposure to climate change education in college or high school. Teachers with more than 25 years of experience had generally not been introduced to the topic, as climate change education has been around only for the last few decades. The participants with under five years of experience hinted at some exposure to climate change but only if they took subjects like geography or integrated science.

Participants expressed confidence in delivering lessons on climate change even though they admitted to limited exposure while they were students. Now that it is a requirement for social studies teachers in Jamaica to teach global climate change, I see it as the perfect opportunity to engage my colleagues about climate change education—and recommend to them the “Teaching Global Climate Change” course that made such a difference for me!

Earth’s global climate is changing, bringing numerous changes to the planet and the organisms that live on it. National Geographic’s free, cohort-based course “Teaching Global Climate Change in Your Classroom” integrates content and pedagogical practices that are important for teaching global climate change at the middle school level. Sign up here, or view all of National Geographic’s professional learning offerings. Enrollment for this section of the course ends January 23.

Camile Clarke is a National Geographic Certified Educator, a 2020 UN CC:Learn Champion, a Climate Reality Leader, a HundrED Ambassador, and a geography teacher at Port Antonio High School in Jamaica. You can connect with Camile on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

Featured image of an agroecology farm near Vinales, Cuba. Cuba and Jamaica are neighboring islands and within the same climate zone. (Mario Machado)

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