Innovative Field Course Offers Climate Change Lessons for Classroom Teachers

Nine classroom teachers traveled to interior Alaska in July of 2013 for an innovative teacher-training course in climate change. The four-day field course, entitled "Climate Change: Seeing, Understanding, and Teaching" and held in Denali National Park, was facilitated by the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. (ARCUS) in partnership with Alaska Geographic and the National Park Service. Participants traveled throughout the park to view evidence of climate change in the ecosystem including tundra dynamics, receding glaciers, and shifting habitats. The course was co-taught by Sarah Bartholow, PolarTREC education project manager at ARCUS, and Dave Shirokauer, physical and social science manager at Denali National Park and Preserve.

National Park Service physical and social science manager Dave Shirokauer leads a lecture on current tundra conditions. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bartholow.

A goal of the field course was to provide classroom teachers with experience and information about climate change, which they could integrate into existing science education curricula. For example, retreating glaciers on the north side of the Alaska Range provided an illustration of the impacts of climate change. Shirokauer presented photographs taken in 1931 and 2004 to compare with what is visible today. This comparison illustrated nearly 800 ft. of ice depth lost in the past 80 years. A sample lesson plan, based on these ecosystem changes, is posted on the PolarTREC website.

An innovative feature of this field course was the role of PolarTREC alumni Susan Steiner as a teacher-leader. Steiner, a classroom teacher, had previous experience as a PolarTREC teacher working on a changing seasonality of tundra nutrients project at Toolik Field Station, Alaska. This experience helped foster her understanding of the impacts of climate change, which she shared with other participants helping them to incorporate climate change science in their lesson plans.

Additional science education and communication resources for educators and researchers are available via the ARCUS PolarTREC program, the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS), and Polar Educators International (PEI).

For further information about the July 2013 field course, please contact Sarah Bartholow (sbartholow [at] arcus [dot] org).