Start here: Human Population Through Time
By the 1970s there was a growing awareness that population growth could be an issue, food shortages a possibility, and that fossil fuel energy is limited. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring written years before had opened the door (and our eyes) to investigations on how humans were impacting our world through the many ways we interact with it as we go through our daily lives. We started taking a hard look at the future. Even as we waited in long gas lines, limited our driving time, and worried, we also got busy and studied how to make it better. Earth Day was created to substantially raise that awareness to a point of activism. As explained on earthday.org, Earth Day was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin and supported by Congressman Pete McCloskey from California. The first Earth Day consisted of a cross-country series of events that took place on April 22, 1970, mining the energy and optimism of youth–those activist young people who had participated in Civil Rights, environmental, and military actions. Merging with other activists, they created a nationwide “teach-in.” Later in the 1990s as Earth Day became a regular part of the U.S. environmental movement, Earth Day went global, and out of this event many new initiatives were born. We all began to recycle, re-use, and re-invent ourselves as caretakers of our environment.
Regardless of how one feels about the impact of humans on climate change, most scientists have no doubt that humans have substantially altered the environment, which will affect us all for many years to come. Mounds of trash in continent-like form floating in the ocean are made by humans. Air quality in cities is unbearable many days. Whether these things add up to creating climate change is almost moot: ecological change today creates consequences tomorrow. We can see how these actions erode coral, kill sea life, and jam shipping propellers. We see it in cities like Beijing where air quality is so bad that children cannot play outside. Los Angeles, Denver, and other cities have proven the ability to clean up their air by regulating how much stuff is sent into the atmosphere. Why would we want to live in a messy, often toxic, home? There are compelling reasons to keep our home clean and environmentally safe.
Two books by Erin Twamley an educator, author, and former education consultant for the Department of Energy, can spark some fun library activities while raising awareness of how we can make an impact:
- Climate Change: Discover How it Impacts Spaceship Earth and
- Renewable Energy: Discover the Fuel of the Future
Using real-life studies, including those on planetary science, Arctic ice bubbles, wind farms, and migratory patterns, these books allow students to discover the evidence that supports the claim that the global climate is changing. The books are written for 9-14 year old students.
As librarians, we have many opportunities to offer our resources and space to create scientific makerspaces where students can practice working like a scientist. Working hand in hand with science teachers, librarians can offer in-class investigations as well as out-of-class programming where we can make that scientific thinking happen. Lunchtime activities can support in-class learning, and collaborations can bring students into the library to participate in activities and walk away with some in-hand print or online reading.
Using the ideas and materials suggested in these and other books and supported by lessons from many governmental agencies, you can think beyond the traditional science fair project and have students mash up research, science, experimentation, and creation by:
- Creating a public service announcement (PSA) about the use of fossil fuels in the school. Many schools are converting to solar energy – ask students to investigate the energy use of their school. Lead them in questioning (rightquestion.org) the process of how energy is supplied to the school, how it is used, when it is used, and how much is consumed.
- Together as a class, students can create a plan for making their school more energy efficient, and then create their PSA video or podcast to persuade students to recycle more efficiently or walk/bike to school. Each school could have its own project. Students wanting to offer creative solutions can present to the school board, district administration, and/or the PTA to gain allies in making changes.
- Have students create an information poster on the source, production, distribution, and consumption of a renewable energy. This could include being a part of the same project for which they create the PSAs. Information posters provide a visualization that brings together big ideas into an easy to understand image.
Check out some of the lessons from NASA, NOAA, and Department of Energy. These agencies offer many lessons that cover a wide swath of grade ranges.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its branch agency, the U.S. Forest Service, offer up delightful interactives within their Climate Change Resource Center. They also break down information into regions, helping students to understand how biomes work and how each are uniquely affected by the way we interact within them. While the news is full of the changes happening in government, these agency websites are currently up and running – head over to them and take advantage of all the great things they offer.
Think about the many ways that science is a key player in the maker movement – investigating everything from microscopic explorations to creating maps, charts, information posters, and yes, those public service announcements.
Here is one example of a maker space science labs from Ms Twamley that you can use in the library this week: Fossil Fuels. Erin reminds us that “the idea of climate change can be scary, but every one of us has the ability to make a difference” (via email).
And there’s a way to do just that! “Here’s an idea that came from a group led by a NOAA woman scientist calling for 1,000,000 letters/postcards from kids to the White House. Send a letter or postcard to the White House to show support for Mother Earth. The goal is to have 1,000,000 letters/postcards sent by kids prior to Earth Day (April 22, 2017).”
What a great way to show students that they can make adults take notice with advocacy in action.
Science in the library is a no-brainer, but we often have to remind our classroom colleagues that the library is not just for getting print or online materials – it’s the biggest classroom in the school and an excellent space for hands-on investigations. We can host those explorations during class time as part of collegial collaborations or as programming that extends classroom learning. What better place to hang out and investigate than the library…where, if you get stumped, you have resources right at your fingertips: encyclopedias, books, posters…and your librarian.
Enjoy your Spring sunshine… and take some time to stop and smell the roses (and ocean air, and wild flowers)!
Author: Connie Williams
Past President of the California School Library Association. Member of the CA State Library Services Board. National Board Certified Teacher Librarian @ Petaluma High School [Petaluma, CA].