This twofold question can be quite a challenge for any teacher. As a teacher with years of experience, I try to find creative ways to encourage students to dig deep and beyond the surface on a topic such as climate change.
First, it’s important to show students that I believe in what I teach: climate change is real and relevant to me. This alone gives my students validation that what I am conveying is worth the effort and beneficial to their world.
I also try to be mindful of my students’ background knowledge before encouraging them to think critically. Without some knowledge of the subject, students may become disinterested and abandon the learning process. For example, I asked my 4th-grade students to describe why a snow plow is needed to clear streets. My students could not answer the question. We live in the Deep South, so most of my students had never witnessed copious amounts of snow. Change in snow levels is not a relevant climate topic for them. However, after Hurricane Ida, my students returned to school with their own observations. Scientists have ascertained that hurricanes have increased in both severity and frequency as a result of climate change. Hurricane Ida presented a way to make my students aware of these changes and give them opportunities to think critically about safety plans and ways to help prevent and/or slow down these climate-related processes.
Critical thinking looks different at each developmental stage in life. My experience as a 1st through 8th-grade teacher has proven this over and over again. Generally, I think about the age of the students before I consider my approach. When I’m teaching 1st-grade students about climate change, I often rely on visual aids and storybooks. In middle school, students benefit from data charts, maps, and first-hand experience to enhance their critical analysis. Regardless of the age of the students, I present the subject matter in a way that is understandable and relevant.
I try to create a culture in my classrooms where students have the freedom to deduce, reason, analyze, create, play, and formulate their own questions for critical thinking. Once I’ve presented the information, my goal is to provide minimal input. In my opinion, this is a great way to set the tone for my students to prove to themselves that climate change is real. Allowing students to prove to themselves that climate change is real can be a powerful way to foster critical thinking about this important subject.
About the Author: Yvette Brooks Tyler
Yvette was born in Church Point, Louisiana. She earned a Master of Arts in Teaching from SUNY Potsdam and a Bachelor's Degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She works as an educator, writer, director, and producer. She lives between Church Point and New Orleans, Louisiana.