Teachers take to Glacier Park, Learning to Teach about Climate Change

This week marks the first time 6th grade teacher Courtney Cooper has visited Montana. She teaches in the town of Bonham, Texas about two hours north of Dallas. Cooper said one of the lessons she’s bringing back is how glaciers in a park on the northern border can relate to the students down on the southern border, “take the pictures back that we made, take the information- hey, this is what it looked like 20 years ago, this is what the glacier’s look like now. Even though you may not think we have an impact, what we do impacts the overall climate, the overall temperature that’s making the glaciers melt,” Cooper said there are also different local examples of businesses or individuals using less energy, or utilizing solar or wind energy in the community that she can point out to her students.

“We live in a very rural area and a lot of the kids know what, like, solar fence chargers are for electric fences. So, we can talk about that- ok, that is solar energy, that is using the suns energy to create that barrier for the cows or goats or whatever they may have,” Cooper said.

She is one of 15 participating in a Climate Change Teacher Workshop in Glacier National Park.

Other participants came in from Ohio, Minnesota, Colorado, as well as Montana teachers from Missoula, Eureka, and the Flathead. They came through a Parks Climate Challenge Grant through the National Park Foundation.

Glacier National Park is one of 8 parks nationwide hosting a Climate Change Teacher Workshop. Education Specialist Laura Law says the grant gives teachers a stipend to help offset the costs of getting to Glacier, and pays to bring in Park scientists and specialists to teach workshops on a number of climate-related studies in the Park, “what the foundation is really trying to do is provide a place and help to train teachers, engage their students, and then share what they’ve done,” Law said.

At the end of the week teacher’s brainstormed to come up with lessons and service learning plans to take back to their classes. Cooper said she and fellow teacher Traci Kinkade are building off recycling efforts they’ve already instituted. Their plan involves a classroom contest to reduce their carbon footprint. It starts by a class calculating the size of their footprint at the beginning, then implementing different energy saving efforts “encouraging people to recycle more, and then there are energy vampires like power strips that we can unplug to help,” Cooper said.

The classrooms will recalculate their carbon footprint at the end, and see which class makes the biggest reduction in size. Law says action plans like this will go on the Parks Climate Challenge website for use by any teacher, anywhere. She says this week the teachers hiked up to Hidden Lake at Logan Pass where they were looking at the high alpine ecosystem, and the role snow plays. They also went lakeside and streamside where they learned about the effect of climate change on aquatic invertebrates. They also talked about teaching concepts like terrestrial ecosystems.

“I talk about- well, how do you know about climate? What tells you what kind of climate that you have? Well, the kind of plants that are growing in your areas. So, we just showed teachers maybe one, first step is just getting students to learn how to identify some plants,” Law said.

The workshop is geared towards 6th through 12th grade teachers. Yellowstone National Park is also part of this year’s program, as are parks in Nevada, Oregon, Washington D-C, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and New Mexico.

Parks Climate Challenge

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