New Science Standards for Minnesota Schools Would Teach Humans’ Role in Climate Change

The topic of climate change often finds itself at the center of hot-button political controversies. However, according to data collected by NASA, “multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” On top of this, a majority of scientific organizations globally have issued statements supporting this position.

Despite this consensus of scientists and scientific organizations, legislators in several US states, such as Iowa, Nebraska, New Mexico, and West Virginia, have attempted to dismantle public-school science standards that relate to climate change. Just this past year, legislators in Idaho voted to remove standards mentioning the terms fossil fuels or global warming as well as any supplemental content that supported them. (Fortunately, after considerable backlash, the original wording of the standards was kept and the changes dismissed.)

While some states backpedal on climate change education, however, Minnesota is attempting to push forward by making the teaching of and research into human-induced climate change part of the written state science standards. The existing standards, which were last updated in 2009, do not explicitly mention climate change or encourage its teaching. The new standards—which, if approved, would take effect during the 2019–2020 school year—would encourage students to analyze the geoscience and results from global climate models and ultimately interpret and describe the effects of climate change and the processes by which human activity may have played a role.

Many organizations and activists have pushed for a greater understanding of climate science among K–12 teachers and advocated for better practices in climate change education in schools. However, without explicit standards like the ones being proposed to back them up, many educators have feared pushback and have simply avoided touching on the subject altogether.

“The controversy around climate change is not in science—it’s in politics,” Jenna Totz, climate change education manager of the nonprofit Climate Generation, explained in an interview with MPR. “So having the standards really gives teachers permission to teach it and have something to fall back on if someone were to come forward and say that they didn’t want that being taught in the classroom.”

Climate Generation has been on the front lines of encouraging a shift in our educational attitudes towards teaching climate change in the classroom by working with hundreds of educators each year, providing them with resources and training to boost confidence in teaching the topic. In a statement to Twin Cities Geek, Totz said, “As an organization focused on building the comfort and competence of educators to implement science-based climate change education, we support the first draft of the science standards for inclusion of human-induced climate change.” She also praised the methods by which the standards are meant to be taught: “We are also encouraged by the focus on three-dimensional learning, which we know to be an effective and engaging way for all students to not just learn science, but be scientists.”

Despite political difficulties and lingering divisiveness, many Minnesota teachers back the new proposal and are optimistic about the future state standards. The Minnesota Department of Education will be holding one more public review and comment period, from February 14 to 28, before the final draft will be sent to the education commissioner in mid-May 2019.

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