Climate Change in Science Education

As a physical geographer and educator, occasionally I’m asked to give a GeoSphere presentation on climate change.  Even more frequently the topic comes up at cocktail parties.  Having kept up over the years with the scientific issues involved, I’m quite comfortable portraying the basic physics and expanding body of research on the subject.  However, as the article Climate Change: The New Battlefield In Science Education points out, many in our society don’t like what they are hearing.  Also, many teachers are outside their comfort zone when trying to explain climate change.  For those who want to get up to speed quickly on the subject, I recommend reading Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Sciences – A Guide for Individuals and Communities. Of course if you think that all the basic science it contains is just evidence of a vast conspiracy, the long list of federal departments that endorse the Climate Literacy project will bolster your argument as well.

-Steve Jansen, GSC Board Member

Continued Efforts Between the GSC and the CAG

The GSC is assisting the Waukegan Harbor Citizens’ Advisory Group (CAG) in an effort to restore natural areas in Waukegan, IL as part of US EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  One of the areas under restoration is Bowen Park, formerly a boys and girls summer camp donated to Jane Addams’ Hull House Settlement by her friend and benefactor, Louise Bowen.

The park is mostly uplands on the eastern edge of the Highland Park moraine overlooking the Chicago Lake Plain.  Post-glacial drainage erosion of these uplands has created steep-walled Glen Flora ravine through the park. CAG had already started restoration work at the site when the severe storms of the summer of 2011 struck. That’s when they called in the GSC for help.

Runoff from the uplands overran the man-made and natural drainage systems to threaten park facilities with severe erosion.  High winds had downed many trees, blocking trails and impacting restoration efforts.  CAG initially asked the GSC to map the tree damage.  Steve Jansen, a GSC director, used the GSC’s handheld GPS units to locate, tag, and measure nearly 100 instances of downed or severely damaged trees as part of a CAG team which also included a botanist and land restoration managers.  The field data was incorporated into a GIS system created by Drew Bieber, also a GSC director.  The GSC team produced numerous maps (see below) to help CAG recover from the damage.

(click for larger image)

GSC’s continuing work at Bowen Park includes a floristic and geomorphic inventory of plants of interest, invasive species, and current and potential erosion and deposition areas.  We also are working with CAG on their restoration efforts on a 2.3 mile stretch of beaches, dunes, and swales along the Lake Michigan shoreline south of Illinois Beach State Park. We are now mapping baseline conditions for areas degraded by invasive species and current and potential habitats for endangered and threatened species. We will track progress on restoration work as it begins in 2012.

Previous Coverage: The GSC and the Waukegan Harbor Citizens’ Advisory Group

Friday News and Links

1. Hans Rosling dispels common misconceptions about modernization and “the developing world.”  (His other TED talks are also impressive.)

[ted id=620]

2. What’s producing methane on Mars?  (New York Times)

3. 2011 saw more billion-dollar weather-related disasters than any other year in US history. (Associated Press)

4. The necessity and relevance of GIS-related studies in modern K-12 classrooms.  (Directions Magazine)

Quote: “…geospatial technology is helping people be inquisitive, exploratory and analytical. Many situations and problems demand unique, iterative explorations and the ability to analyze data. Life is not a single-threaded linear existence. Educators need to model exploration and analysis, and then give students more and more opportunities to the do same.”

Alarm Bells

We in the geography community here in Illinois recently received an alarming email from the Chair of a Social Studies Department in a medium-sized town in western Illinois. She explained that her administration is concerned that the teaching of geography, specifically where countries are located, is insignificant information.

As President of the Geographic Society of Chicago, I would like to speak to that notion.

Everyone has read the articles about Americans’ geographic illiteracy. “Six in 10 Americans cannot find Iraq on a map of the Middle East,” reported the Chicago Sun-Times in 2006. Another paper reported that “1 in 8 don’t know Alaska is a state.” The reports keep coming.  The National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” recently concluded that only 23% of fourth-graders, 30% of 8th graders, and a meager 21% of twelfth-graders were considered proficient in their understanding of geography.

Certainly, ignorance of our world map is widespread and alarming in itself. But geographic illiteracy is much more profound than being able to locate Iraq or Alaska on a map.

Undoubtedly, the “wheres” are important, but they are merely the alphabet of geography. Reciting the alphabet is not the same as learning how to read. The same is true of geographic literacy. The “wheres” are the building blocks, but the “whys”—why the world looks and functions as it does—provide the interconnecting principles for understanding our world. Geography is a study of the physical Earth, as well as a study of the world’s people.

Our citizens, the caretakers of our planet and leaders of our country, are graduating from school with little or no training in geography. Without geography, how can we understand Earth’s patterns—its climate regions, its weather systems, its cultures, its population patterns, its agricultural demands? How can we understand the effects of our actions or how these patterns can be disrupted by war, pollution, poverty, globalization, population growth, or climate change?

Geography is an integrating discipline that informs us about the world’s people and how they interact with the land we live on, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Like a piece of fabric, geography is where all of Earth’s threads are interwoven. Pull one thread out and others unravel. We need this critically important subject to be an essential part of our K-12 curriculum. For the future of our country, we must insist that all our citizens be geographically literate.

Readers of this Geo-Blog, please add your opinions here so that we can help prevent the disintegration of geography in American classrooms.

Celeste Fraser, President
Geographic Society of Chicago