Change the climate in your chemistry classes by putting sustainability issues front and centre

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Sustainability, climate change and the future of our planet shouldn’t just be headlines in the media, they should be headlining science teaching

COP26 (the UN climate change conference) happening in Glasgow meant climate change was  jostling with Covid-19 for coverage in the national media for a

few weeks. But why isn’t climate change making the front pages of newspapers and websites, or the main headlines on radio and TV every day? It’s surely the biggest threat to humanity.

We could pose the same question about education and climate change: why isn’t climate change dominating the teaching of all subjects and why isn’t it at the forefront of every exam specification?

Should science teachers become activists in the classroom to save the planet?

My first question about the media I hijacked from Radio 4’s The Media Show. A recent episode of the programme, ‘Climate change and the challenge for media’, brought together environment and science journalists and asked them whether journalists should dispense with objectivity and become activists to save the planet. It made me want to pose a similar question about education and climate change: should science teachers supplement the curriculum and become activists in the classroom to save the planet?

The curriculums mainly focus on what has happened. In effect, chemistry lessons are the history of chemistry: what has already been discovered. And, as such, climate change doesn’t fit; it’s happening now, it’s not yet a finished process. (That’s actually also one of the reasons climate change isn’t always making the news. News editors focus on what has happened on this day, to this person.)

We have to change that. Education can’t ignore what is happening to our planet now.

Start the revolution

We know that real-life contexts help students understand the complex concepts they learn in chemistry and other sciences. Climate change and sustainability offer a wealth of contexts. As climate change is happening all around us all the time, and scientists, engineers and activists are constantly working to find sustainable alternatives to polluting processes, to abate predicted changes and mitigate those that have happened, there is plenty to choose from – and much of it is already within pupils’ experience.

There is also a wealth of resources. Search online for ‘climate change secondary education’ and the results are as long as the proverbial arm. And EiC has been adding to that list, with the Sustainability in chemistry articles. Written by teachers and teacher trainers, these articles make links to existing curriculums, set the topics within current contexts and give you classroom-ready resources to bring climate change and sustainability into your teaching. You could start the climate change in teaching revolution today.

There is plenty of backing for that revolution too. The Royal Society of Chemistry has just published a report on sustainability and climate change in chemistry education that includes recommendations for the curriculum. 

More resources

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