It started with a song. Science teacher Kellie Sutliff-Brady wanted to get her students talking about global warming, so she hit ‘play’ on Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need to Wake Up,” from the soundtrack of the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Then she asked her 10th grade honors biology students at Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to conduct their own research into global warming. The students dove in, taking on so many projects that she ran out of teaching time for the topic.
Their reaction to the assignment “was beyond my expectations,” Sutliff-Brady says. “They loved it.”
The key to introducing climate change was allowing students to draw their own conclusions through independent research. “This is such a heated issue—there is no way you can tell them exactly what you think,” Sutliff-Brady says.
Whether global climate change is an actual phenomenon isn’t much in dispute; however, people do disagree on how much the Earth is changing and what types of emissions affect it. Sutliff-Brady says the research helped students understand the major issues.
After the initial assignment, students developed a survey to take into their community. Among their findings: 85 percent of the adults surveyed said the world is too dependent on fossil fuels, but 60 percent also said environmentalists are overreacting.
The students then broke into groups to study climate change’s effect on various ecosystems—deserts, temperate forests, rainforests, and tundra. Each group also had to find a way to educate others. One held a bake sale to raise money for a copy of the Inconvenient Truth DVD and book; another raffled off energy-saving light bulbs; and three others gave talks to middle and elementary school classes.
“I let them come up with some ideas and I fine-tuned,” says Sutliff-Brady, a former pharmaceutical researcher who has been teaching for six years. The students were so enthusiastic that she organized an after-school club called the Green Team, which aims to raise awareness and help the school reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions.
“These teenagers are passionate,” Sutliff-Brady says. “They now understand that this issue affects their future.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as Warming Up to Climate Studies