Education for Climate Action

Classroom teachers walking through a wetland.
Classroom teachers returning from conducting their own climate-focused outdoor investigations during the annual Teachers on the Estuary workshop coordinated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Maryland, and NOAA's Environmental Science Training Center.

A quick google search for climate change education resources will result in millions of links but, which ones are standards-aligned, focused on climate solutions, and go beyond just a quick activity or lesson?

Claire Burnet, a student at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, joined NOAA’s Environmental Science Training Center (ESTC) as an intern during the summer of 2023. Her task was to identify climate change curricula that are sustained, meaningfully organized, and aligned with the Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) framework and other criteria. She spoke with 33 professionals from across the country and collected 267 resources. Her evaluation criteria included: standard aligned, student centered, social-emotional learning, outdoor learning, justice oriented, and action oriented. You can review her evaluation process and the long list of climate change resources here.

Image includes two radar charts. One chart shows the vision or hope that the resources evaluated all scored well on the six criteria (standard aligned, action oriented, student centered, outdoor learning, social and emotional learning (SEL), and justice oriented). The reality chart show that most evaluated scored well in standard aligned, student centered and justice oriented but often scored poorly in the other criteria.
The hope (vision) was that the resources reviewed strongly met the six criteria evaluated but the reality was that often only half of the criteria were met.

The evaluation revealed that often the resources didn’t include outdoor learning and social-emotional learning and are not action oriented; criteria which are important to connect student’s to their local community, combat climate anxiety, and offer hope for their future in the face of this crisis.

Claire's evaluation didn't included all climate change curricula and units available online but it provides a great starting off point for those looking to embed meaningful climate change learning into their curricula that goes beyond single lessons or activities.

“What we really need are place-based and culturally-responsive initiatives.”
- Sarah Boder, North American Association for Environmental Education

The interviews were also telling about the understanding and awareness of resources. Claire spoke with individuals that ranged from curriculum developers to school district leaders to professors. These professionals spoke of the educator’s desire for more climate change curricula and difficulty finding resources that fit their needs. So work needs to happen to improve climate change resources, but we also need to do a lot of work to share the resources already available.

Climate Change Resources added to Bay Backpack

Claire’s work resulted in two additions to Bay Backpack. First, under Teaching Resources, you can now find Climate Change Curricula and Units—check back often as these lists continue to grow! Second, there is now an Environmental Literacy Model (ELM) for a MWEE focused on climate change for middle school students: Rooting in Solutions: Climate Change and Trees in your Community. This ELM provides an outline and resources for teachers to use and adapt to their local context and centers justice issues, solutions, and social-emotional learning.

The need for training

A national survey found that 63% of teachers and 73% of administrators think professional development is needed to support effective teaching about climate change. ESTC is also hearing this need from partners across the Mid-Atlantic so the office continues to center climate change in many of its workshops for informal educators and classroom teachers. Check the webpage often to learn about upcoming opportunities.

In the meantime, ESTC also hosts online courses that are free, self-paced, can be started at any time and include continuing education credits for some states:

There’s more to come!

During Claire’s many interviews she learned of needs and gaps but also, a hopeful future. Many of the professionals interviewed shared that they were assisting in the development of new curricula that should be publicly available in the next year. As those resources are shared, ESTC and partners will be ready to help with training and implementation as we all work to advance education for climate action.

If you know of climate change units or curricula not currently shared on Bay Backpack, email Krysta at