Our climate change lesson and the letter from President Obama
“Hearing from engaged young people like you gives me great hope for the future.”
iSchool for the Future was pleased to receive a package from The White House in response to letters sent by students in our Around the World Summer Camp. In the package, addressed to “The Students of iSchool for the Future,” President Obama thanked the students for their letters, and said, “Our environment and wildlife are among our most precious treasures, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts.” The President also wrote about how the United States is taking on tough environmental challenges, including climate change, and encouraged students to learn more about what they can do at government websites.
The response letter from President Obama
Students who had been in the Around the World Summer Camp were excited to read the letter and look at the materials in the package, which included a coloring and sticker sheet from the “Let’s Move” program, a signed photograph of President Obama, a kid-friendly interview with the President, and a guide to exploring the White House through the Arts. iSchool students were particularly interested by an information card about Bo Obama, the First Family’s dog.
The lesson described here took us nearly a day of summer camp. During the camp, we had a number of objectives, including teaching about climate change. One of our methods, however, was to ask students at the beginning of the two-week camp what topics they wanted to cover. Several students identified marine animals as a desired topic. Teachers saw easy links between lessons on marine animals, Pacific Islands, and climate change.
To encourage exploration of marine animals, we let students find pictures of animals in National Geographic magazines, cut them out, and make collages. We also watched videos about marine life:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kj_vwleR6Q 3:38 Music and Video of underwater scenes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvUXN0y-Hyw 3:27 On the Census of Marine Life
One of the Camp teachers had spent many years in the Pacific doing scientific research, so she had students act out some of the motions she had done, including acting out doing bird surveys (using hands as binoculars and listening for bird calls) and pretending to do a manta tow (pretending to hold onto a bar and be dragged behind a boat slowly, counting fish).
We also watched a number of videos about various Pacific cultures (some during snack and lunchtime), and tried on clothes from several Micronesian Islands.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GR5DEJj0X8 Samoan clap dance
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BoNmpvkavo Maori war dance
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXtQNVXNu-A Hawaii hula
We then changed focus and introduced climate change. We used a number of videos to spark discussion. Normally we don’t show this many videos, but it turned out that many students did not understand what climate change was. They had heard of it, but did not understand its mechanics or meaning. Luckily, for each class we always had a suite of videos ready to show.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ko6GNA58YOA 2:38. A simple cartoon from Australia about climate change and CO2; it also ends with a shot of the ocean.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIG7vt1ZPKE 6:30. Impacts of climate change in Kiribati. This video is definitely best for older students. It worked in our class because the teacher had spent much time in the Pacific and so stopped the video several times to discuss personal experiences.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7njmXZL0Sx8 1:45. An overview of climate change, with only music and large text. Africa focus.
Knowing that we were going to ask students to write to the President to ask him to do something about climate change, we had them make pledges to make individual changes first. To speed up this process, the teacher wrote out pledges on recycled paper that we cut into interesting borders. We put them all up on the board with magnets, and gathered everyone around to look at the various things they could pledge to do. We had a short discussion about various actions and talked about what they were doing already or what they could do. Then each student selected a pledge (a couple wanted to pledge the same thing so the teacher quickly wrote out more pledges). We took photos of the students with their pledges, and this went into our package to President Obama.
This could easily be modified to have students identify and write their own pledges if teachers want students to have more ownership over the pledge.
We saw some of the students immediately start implementing pledges – such as by picking paper out of the waste bin and putting it into the recycling bin and turning off lights in an adjacent classroom.
- I pledge to Turn Off Lights
- I pledge to Reuse Many Things
- I pledge to Clean Up My Environment
- I pledge to Walking Instead of Asking for a Ride
- I pledge to Turn Off Electricity
- I pledge to Teach Others about Climate Change
- I pledge to Recycle
- I pledge to Reduce Trash
- I pledge to Ride My Bike Instead of Asking for a Ride
- I pledge to Use Recyclable Materials instead of Asking for New Ones
Examples of pledges on recycled paper
Students holding their pledges
iSchool for the Future has identified six core social and emotional life skills that it believes all children should develop while they are young. One of those core skills is Empathy. We teach empathy using a modified version of the 5-step process offered by Edutopia: http://cdn1.edutopia.org/pdfs/blogs/edutopia-taran-lesson7empathy.pdf. Our modifications emphasize Step 5 – Show you care – and we separate words and actions into two separate components.
Thus, students had already had a number of lessons on empathy, with opportunities to write about, draw, and act out empathy. In the Climate Change lesson, we asked them to show empathy for real people in a real way.
Letters to the President
We then asked each student to write a letter to the President. We provided an outline and then let them fill it in. The outline was:
- My name is…
- I am ……. (age)
- We learned about….
- I care because….
In our typical STEAM SEL fashion, we let individual personalities shine through in their letters. Some letters had drawings, others had interesting colors. We did not limit them to any specific format.
An example of a student letter
An unexpected Social Studies Lesson
We discussed that we lived in the United States, which is a democracy where individuals elect their representatives and have a right to talk to their politicians. One teacher related a story from Fiji:
“I went to Fiji two years ago, and noticed that the newspapers only had stories about sports and movie stars. I asked one of my colleagues why there were no stories about politicians in the newspaper. My colleague quickly shushed me….. ‘Since the coup, you’re not even allowed to talk about politics,’ he said, ‘and the papers are all censored.’ I was really amazed, because growing up here in Washington, DC, you take it for granted that the nightly news discusses what our President and other politicians are doing.”
Students loved hearing that story, and it made them ask questions like “You mean kids in Fiji aren’t allowed to write to their President?” They were a bit awed that they could write to President Obama and that they would indeed get a response.
Our Cover Letter
This was of course a great opportunity to gain some exposure for iSchool and for our STEAM SEL method. Our cover letter to the President highlighted all of our work as well as the words of the students.
Our letter to the President
Someone at the White House hand-wrote our address!