I have a pretty good grasp on teaching Climate Change concepts to young adults (9-12 Grade) but have always struggled with teaching it to 2-4th graders. I would like some advice on what to leave in or leave out during lessons and how to teach to elementary school students.
How to teach about Climate change to 3rd grade
The primary grades are a wonderful time for foundational work on climate change, Noah. Fortunately, Next Gen Science Standards give us a guide for age-appropriate learning goals for each level. I have pulled out all of the goals related to climate change, and categorized them by grade level, K-12. See link below for Climate Change & NGSS. As you'll see, the focus in the primary grades is on developing a basic understanding of nature, and how one thing can have an impact on another; for example, a change in habitat affects those who live there. As with every grade, it's important that children know that there are many ways we can help protect nature. For more ideas, visit the Start Learning page on Kids Against Climate Change.
Thanks for posting your Climate Change & NGSS doc. I especially think that it's important to make sure that for any disciplinary core concept that we choose to focus on, we also (at the same time) build learning experiences around the scientific practices and cross-cutting concepts that you've listed (see the last couple pages of Kottie's doc). It's when all 3 elements are included that a lesson is really robust and engaging. Can some of you who use such lessons post them so that we can see and discuss them?
Noah, have you explored Project WILD or Project Learning Tree? Both programs' curricula and educator training sessions offer a variety of activities and resources to introduce foundational climate concepts like habitat to elementary students. The new Project WILD curriculum guide published this year has given a lot of attention to teaching climate change.
Kids in lower elementary are pretty concrete thinkers, and climate change is too abstract and overwhelming for them, so in our field trips and summer camps, we focus on exploring, experiencing and connecting with the plants and animals in local ecosystems and being helpful (coastline cleanups, recycling and composting, etc.). A colleague and I follow the principle of "no tragedy before 4th grade" so we focus on things like understanding butterfly life cycles, how plants grow, how sea turtles migrate, etc. and encouraging a love of, interest in, and sense of responsibility for nature. Understanding life cycles, habitats or interdependence will go a long way to bringing home the significance of climate change and human impacts when they are introduced in, say, 5th grade.
Regarding some of the Project WILD climate change education resources for elementary grades, you can find more information at https://www.fishwildlife.org/projectwild/project-wild-resources. One of these resources you can download is a document on "Effective Climate Change Education" with some very basic guidelines on age appropriate education strategies.
If you have an opportunity to take a Project WILD professional development workshop at which you can receive the updated Project WILD (terrestrial) guide, I recommend the new activity "Keeping Cool" for third and fourth graders. While the activity does not approach climate change directly, it does involve students in investigating how one group of animals (reptiles) regulate body temperature. Like several other Project WILD activities that relate wildlife to a basic understanding of nature , "Keeping Cool" will help learners develop a knowledge base for further developing their understanding of the impacts of climate change to the ecosystem and actions people can take as stewards of the ecosystem.
Adding one more resource. The Climate Reality Project's "Beginning the Climate Conversation."