As Climate Change Urgency Grows, PA Is Still Working On New Standards For Teaching About It

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STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – The picture of global warming is getting more dire, as the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says governments need to act immediately to limit warming below catastrophic levels.

But students heading back to school may not hear about climate change in the classroom because of outdated science education standards.

Science teachers list the strengths and challenges of the Pennsylvania’s current science education standards. Sarah Boden / WESA

The state is working on new science standards now. The Department of Education is reviewing public comments before finalizing them. It expects to start using the new guidelines in 2024.

Galen Kreiser, a science teacher at 21st Century Cyber Charter School and past president of the Pennsylvania Science Teachers Association, said a lot has changed since the standards were last updated nearly 20 years ago.

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“We’re doing a disservice to our students if we just limit what we’re teaching to what’s in the standards,” Kreiser said.

Current standards focus on subjects such as biology and chemistry. Earth science standards focus on more basic functions of the planet’s systems, like the atmosphere and ocean. Human involvement in the climate isn’t mentioned until the 12th grade standards.

Kreiser said he is already teaching his students about climate change; students can debate the topic in class with scientifically valid arguments.

But students across Pennsylvania may get widely varying levels of climate change education, because there isn’t a statewide standard.

The proposed standards include climate change topics throughout grade levels for the first time. For example, students in grades 3-5 would learn to describe the physical processes that shape Earth, and how humans affect and are affected by those systems.

High school students would be expected to show how the Earth’s systems are being changed by human activity and to evaluate solutions that could reduce people’s impact on the world.

Jeff Remington, a National STEM Teacher Ambassador and middle school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) teacher with the Palmyra School District in Lebanon County, worked on the committees that shaped the guidelines. He said the standards emphasize critical thinking across scientific disciplines.

“The standards are going to be a little bit different than the original standards back in 2002 when kids were just learning about things,” Remington said. “These standards are going to help students be problem-solvers and create solutions to the problems.”