This article draws upon the ideas of many Tide~ teacher groups working with Key Stages 2 and 3 in the West Midlands and offers key challenges about climate change for teachers and learners.
Climate change is a big issue for us all, influencing every aspect of our lives. Its complexity demands creativity and debate in order for us as individuals and professionals to begin to make sense of such uncertain issues. There are no easy answers and no absolute certainties; the issues will change and develop over time. The decisions young people will be faced with in their adult lives will be very different from those we are faced with now.
As teachers, this may be an uncomfortable place to be – it is difficult to be the experts! So the core challenge for teachers as we see it, is to create space for thinking and discussion in which both teachers and pupils have the opportunity to investigate ideas, challenge their own thinking and draw their own conclusions.
The challenge is in the thinking … and talking!
The implications of climate change are not always clear, or easily predicted. Around the world a lot of work has gone into modelling future scenarios, trying to gain some idea of potential outcomes. We found it helpful to consider how these predictions are made. For example, the UK Climate Impacts Programme website classifies possible outcomes in the UK according to their probability.
Considering the evidence and forecasts, we can be confident in our uncertainty – we know enough to know that climate change is happening and we urgently need to respond. Hearing a range of people’s perspectives about responding to climate change helps us to develop our own thinking. The BBC Green Room has an interesting collection of think-pieces that you may find useful.
Many groups [media, government, NGOs, private business] are highlighting the issues on a daily basis, offering opinions and ‘solutions’ to the problem of climate change. Targets are being set, challenges put forward and pressure is being applied.
All of this can be very confusing and sometimes contradictory. It can leave us feeling like we want to ‘do the right thing’ professionally or personally, but confused about what that actually means. It might also leave us feeling powerless to make a difference in the face of such uncertainty. This raises many questions for us such as:
Photos from top:
‘Our long term future will depend less on our compliance in being trained to do the ‘right’ thing now, and more on our capacity to analyse, to question alternatives and to make our own decisions’ Vare and Scott – Learning for a change 
These debates have generated a lot of discussion in the Tide~ network. A series of teacher seminars have led to the paper Climate Change~ the educational implications.
Teacher groups have also found the Tidetalk article Global Learning ~ exploring the pitfalls useful.
In their thinkpiece Education for Sustainable Development: 2 sides and an edge Paul Vare and Bill Scott argue for balancing the urgent need to take action about sustainable development issues, with a strong concern for the development of critical thinking. They suggest that this will be needed by us all in the future in order to answer these questions for ourselves. This can also be viewed as building resilience in learners in order for them to cope with future scenarios.
For more on creative work responding to this challenge see Learning today with tomorrow in mind and teacher CPD.
The groups who worked towards the publication ‘Climate Change~ local and global’, focussed on an enquiry approach with their groups of learners at Key Stages 2 and
This approach engaged young people positively with the complexities of climate change, while encouraging them to draw their own conclusions.
It was based on four questions:
We have found that the complex nature of the issues of climate change demands an educational approach which acknowledges the uncertainty behind our ideas, allows learners to investigate the complexities for themselves and helps them draw their own conclusions.A learner-centred enquiry approach is a great opportunity for young people to drive their own learning and make their own decisions. It is not the only possible educational response to climate change.
Other approaches might be:
Lots of support materials exist for teachers looking to use an enquiry approach. Our website includes a downloadable enquiry cycle and the Tidetalk article An enquiry approach to global issues at Key Stage 3 written by Ruth Henshaw.
We share some teaching ideas for enquiry in The enquiry process.
This section offers a selection of activities supporting the enquiry process. The activities were developed in response to specific school contexts, but hopefully you will find them useful as a stimulus for your own thinking, practice and debates. We also outline some supporting material and articles that we have found helpful.
You could create a large version of this enquiry cycle on a display as a visual map of the process, with questions and ideas added as the enquiry progresses. Learners then review what and how they are learning as they work through the cycle.
Ideas in this section allow children to share their existing ideas and understandings.
Children explored climate change concepts and terms.
A photo pack or selected images were used to begin to put climate change into context. Groups were given some of the images.
You may also find this stimulus material about using photographs useful.
This section offers children time and space to think through the implications of climate change for their lives. It is an opportunity to explore negative and positive consequences at a range to scales exploring personal, local and global implications.
Children investigated possible future scenarios of climate change, and used information to make predictions of their own.
The day after tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow … [inspired by an idea in ‘Teaching about Climate Change’ by Tim Grant and Gail Littlejohn]
Groups of children looked at a range of images from around the world showing change and were asked to consider what linked the images.
They discussed the idea that change [including climate change] is occurring at a variety of scales, including nationally and globally.
Mysteries are a thinking skills activity, designed to explore connections between what is happening in different places; sometimes very distant from each other. They offer an open-ended way of explaining chains of cause and effect, including how individual actions in one place can have global consequences.
The mystery we offer was developed at Stanley Road Primary School, Worcester, following local flooding. It makes connections to global climate change issues as well as people’s lives in other places.
David Leat has written many publications about mysteries including a chapter in ‘Thinking Through Geography’ and the Geographical Association website has links to more mysteries.
This section engages learners in making decisions about appropriate actions for themselves, rather than simply conforming to prescribed behaviours. In supporting both action and ideas, teacher groups have stressed the importance of children having opportunities for critical engagement with the issues.
Activities in this section include opportunities for learners to consider what action is both appropriate and possible as a response to climate change.
Using the prompt questions, children investigated and discussed activity responding to climate change at a range of scales.
In this we wanted to balance a sense of personal responsibility with a recognition that others have particular roles to play.
Thinking Through Climate Change has a great section called ‘sort it out’ which supports learners in considering personal and collective action.
Learners at Wakeman School, Shrewsbury, Shropshire considered two potential future scenarios for Britain’s climate: a Mediterranean scenario where warming continues unabated; a Big Chill mini ice-age resulting from the interruption of the Gulf Stream by Arctic meltwater.
A large version of the ‘circles for change’ model was created.
You may find it useful to read Tidetalk ~ Schools contributing to a sustainable society written by John Rhymer, Bishops Wood Centre, Worcestershire.
Creating space for young people to reflect upon their learning is a crucial element in the enquiry process – it involves learning about learning. Reviewing understandings will help to develop their resilience to future developments.
In the Learning Journeys project, children at Colmore Junior School, Birmingham investigated sustainability issues in groups, and presented their findings as ‘experts’ to the class during circle time.
The rest of the class questioned each group of ‘experts’ using a whole-class Development Compass Rose.
Groups of learners have often made presentations to a range of audiences such as fellow pupils, parents, local community members, explaining their findings, and any changes that they have decided to make. In order to do this, the children need to take stock of their learning, and think about the best ways of presenting ideas which have worked best for them. This is a good way to integrate thinking about learning with an activity which has purpose and meaning for the children.
Groups used prompts as the basis for an oral evaluation [eg circle time] and as the basis of a display.
Part of thinking about learning is thinking about where information is sourced, and how useful/reliable it has been.
We offer a framework to help children evaluate sources.
We are faced with many policy changes and new initiatives which have significant implications for us as teachers. We feel that, despite the pressure for change and innovation, we can be optimistic about the opportunities these changes offer for us to develop a more creative, responsive, learner-centred experience in our schools. This section highlights some significant developments.
WMNet curriculum mapping - Compiled with the support of Tide~ teacher groups. Includes mapping of where subjects contribute to climate change and vice versa, and suggested links to the five Every Child Mattersoutcomes.
For recent debates around curriculum development look at:
Global learning in primary schools and Enabling global learning through the KS3 curriculum offer a synthesis of many Tide~ teacher projects and debates around curriculum development in primary and secondary schools.
Education for sustainable development and climate change
Although not directly concerned with thinking about climate change as a single issue, the National Framework for Sustainable Schools provides opportunities for teachers and learners to make connections across the eight doorways and at the three scales: curriculum, campus and community.
Sustainable development and climate change are happening at a range of scales from the personal to the global. The QCA The Global Dimension in Action and DCSF’s Developing the Global Dimension give guidance on approaches to teaching and learning about the global dimension.
The Manifesto for Learning Outside the Classroom gives clear support for planning compelling learning experiences using a wide variety of locations. Using these locations to enable creative learning experiences around climate change is an exciting and welcome opportunity.
As the profile and urgency of climate change has increased, there has also been a noticeable increase in the number of teaching and learning materials available relating to climate change. We need to critically analyse these resources to ensure that they are helping us to make the most of every learning opportunity. Some resources are blatantly manipulative, aimed at generating specific behaviours rather than encouraging us to consider the nature of our own responses.
However, there are many really useful resources and websites, some of which we have included as links throughout the sections of this article.
Here we highlight more resources that we have found useful.
This photopack consists of 20 A4 photographs and an accompanying book. The pack illustrates the causes of global warming and the effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The images include traffic on the M25, a wind farm, bleached coral, a power station in Hong Kong and so on. Available from Wildgoose
A climate change toolkit that enables learners to investigate energy use at home and in their school and explores how this is linked to global weather events. The A4 photographs are particularly useful. Separate packs are available for primary and for secondary schools. The toolkits are free with web support. Action Aid
National Geographic www.nationalgeographic.com
Click on the link below for Climate Change: Pictures of a Warming World.
CBBC Newsround www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc
The link below takes you to a set of paired images, showing how the view has changed over time.
Climate Change www.climatechange.com.au
Ten photos showing climate change, its causes and its effects with information about each.
WMNet http://www.wmnet.org.uk/22.cfm provide a series of exciting investigative activities designed for Key Stages 2 and 3 including ‘Thinking Through Climate Change’, and ‘Flooding’. Many of these ideas have come from Tide~ teacher groups, and were influenced by the enquiry ideas in this article.
This anthology from Green Teacher offers a framework for teaching fundamental concepts and a variety of activities that can be undertaken in school, at home or in the community. The resource can be difficult to obtain from the publisher. We suggest using an online bookstore or ordering through your local bookshop. Worth the effort though!
Author Tim Grant and Gail Littlejohn
Published by: New Society Publishers
An inconvenient truth ~ A global warning
This award-winning documentary by Al Gore is supported by a comprehensive downloadable study guide from the take part website. Background to the film, images, fliers and information about it can be found from the climate crisis website. Guidance materials to support critical thinking about the film can be found on the Teachernet website.
Secondary Geography Handbook
Ed: David Balderstone
The chapter Teaching geography for a sustainable future by Dr Alun Morgan is particularly thought-provoking and useful. Here, Alun Morgan asks us to pay attention to how education is preparing young people for adulthood and consider a ‘futures dimension’ to geography. He explores how this approach can support students’ investigation into the many possible futures that lie ahead including the aspiration of a sustainable future.
International Climate Challenge
This website enables young people to explore the issues for themselves and has good back up for teachers. It has an excellent resources section that includes good quality weblinks, and downloadable presentations and other tools for stimulating discussion.
For a list of organisations that support schools on energy, water and climate change issues, click here.
Many teachers and groups working with Tide~ in the West Midlands have been involved in responding creatively to climate change in their teaching. We would like to thank them for all of their enthusiasm and hard work.
The journey towards this article began with a response to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and has continued ever since, evolving as the issues have changed.
It draws particularly from ‘Climate Change ~ local and global, an enquiry approach’. For full acknowledgements see below.
This article also draws upon ideas from:
Ideas have also been drawn from a range of other workshops, partnerships and conferences including the Al Gore/University of Cambridge Climate Change Project.
The debates around climate change, and our role as educators continue. We welcome your responses and creative ideas.
Climate Change ~ Local and Global, and enquiry approach [published 2005]
Here we acknowledge the people and organisations involved in the project during its development.
These materials were written by:
With contributions from:
* Project group facilitators
With special thanks to:
Five local working groups were involved in the main creative classroom work leading up to the original publication:
Facilitators: Malcolm Smith, Barston Education Centre; Sonia Wright, Bell Heath Study Centre; Andrew Simons, Centre of the Earth.
Working group: Gillian Beck, Boldmere Junior; Anna Jaremko, Boldmere Junior/New Hall JI; Lesley Geoghegan, Somerville JI.
Also involved: Sue Penhallow, Albert Bradbeer Junior; Paul Archer, BASS; Terry Pugh, Bockleton Study Centre; Kirk Wellington and Deborah Latham, Foundry JI School; Ian Yates, James Watt Junior.
Facilitators: Sarah Oakley, Agenda 21; Phil Leivers, Coventry LA.
Working group: Simon Bonney, Alice Stevens Special School; Majella Forrester, Foxford School; Lisa Ambler, GLOBE; Jane Bufton, Holbrook Primary; Sarah Jackson, Performing Arts Service; Lynn Melling, WEEAC.
Mr N Owen, Allesley Primary; Elaine Gough, Bishop Ullathorne School; K Bonehill, Clifford Bridge Primary; Bill Johnson, Coventry City Council; Jane Barker, Coventry LA; Veronica Parrell, Holbrook Primary; Elizabeth Chester, Manor Park Primary; Karen Hawcutt, Radford Primary; Jackie Dines, Sidney Stranger CTC; Deborah Knott, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust; Rose Smith, Warwickshire Education Ranger; Rohini Corfield, Warwickshire LA.
Facilitators: Steve Lockwood, Dudley LEA; Sue Shanks, Natural Curriculum Project, Wolverhampton.
Working group: Kerry Harris and Adrian Hyde, Blanford Mere Primary; Jodie Mills, Highfields School, Wolverhampton; Lisa Parkes, St Mary’s Primary, Dudley [now at Alder Coppice Primary, Dudley]; Nicki Spilman, Kingswinford School, Dudley; Denise Ward, Kingswinford School.
Also involved: Greg Jones, Black Country School Improvement Partnership; Alyson Whittaker, Bramford Primary.
Facilitator: Steve Rogers, Shropshire LA.
Working group: Alyson Owens, Baschurch CE Primary; Claire Paybody, The Burton Borough School; Mary Lucas, Clive Primary; Marie Dewsbury, The Lord Silkin School; Lawrence Gittins, Newcastle CE Primary; Sharon Evans, St George’s Special School; Dawn Herriot, Sherrifhales Primary; Mary Potter, Southall Special School; Jeanette Pinches, Stirchley Primary; Ruth Cox, The Sundorne School; Ann-Marie Furbur, Trefonen Primary; Gill Clarke, Trinity CE School; Ruth Henshaw, Wakeman School; Michelle Rowley, Wombridge Primary; Jerry Hughes, Worthen CE Primary.
Also involved: Paul Tutchener, Baschurch CE Primary; Kevin Lawrence, Bridges Centre; Andrew Tetsall, Corbet Secondary; Janet Keeble, Shropshire Wildlife Trust; Becky Lloyd, Telford & The Wrekin Council.
Facilitator: Stephen Pickering, Worcestershire County Council.
Working Group: Steve Brennan-White, Bredenbury Primary, Herefordshire; Wendy Clark, Stanley Road Primary, Worcester; Jon Cree, Bishop’s Wood Centre; Fran Martin, University College Worcester.
Also involved: John Rhymer, Bishop’s Wood Centre; Felicity Weeks, Broadlands Primary School, Hereford; Helen Turner and Jenny Sadler, Ridgeway Middle, Worcestershire; Jenny Oakley, St Barnabas Primary, Worcester; Caroline Mathews, Welland Primary, Worcestershire; Michelle Bayliss, Windmill First School, Worcestershire.
We would like to thank the teachers who played a role at and attended these sessions, whose thinking has contributed to the original project.
Bishop’s Wood Centre, Worcestershire; Centre of the Earth, Birmingham; Harborne Hall, Birmingham; Lugwardine Court, Herefordshire; Chapel Fields Centre, Solihull; Manor Hall, Warwickshire.
A climate for change? Conference, Bishop’s Wood Centre, March 2003.
This event helped initiate the project, and was attended by 61 delegates. We would like to acknowledge the following people who contributed to its planning and running.
John Rhymer, Bishop's Wood Centre; Pauline Lozoya, COIN; Zoe Kulczycki, CREATE; Ros Bray and Emily Ford, Eco-Schools; Jenny Stamps, Parkside Middle, Worcestershire; Sue Fitzjohn, St John’s CE First School, Kidderminster; Emma Brice, St Peter’s CE Primary, Bromyard; Derek Allder, Severn Trent Water; Fiona Gough, Shropshire Energy Advice Centre; Marina Churm, West Midlands ESD Forum; Liz Alston, Worcestershire County Council.
Gambia Study Visit Courses 2002-2008
These courses, in partnership with the National Environment Agency in The Gambia, helped initiate and catalyse the thinking of the project. In particular, a discussion paper prepared by the 2002 group helped enable early work. We would like to acknowledge all those who have been part of this work, and particularly those who have taken a leading role:
Andrew Simons, Sue Penhallow, Fran Martin and Sally Wood [UK]; Ndey Bakurin and Ajie Binta Kinteh [The Gambia].
A further climate change project was developed with Worcestershire Schools and facilitated by Jon Cree. Some of this work was incorporated into the WMNet's online resources on Floods and Climate Change.
The Sustainable Development and Climate Change Liaison Group
The West Midlands Coalition is supported by West Midlands LEAs, the Department for International Development and many other partners. We would like to acknowledge Brandon Marsh Nature Centre, Centre of the Earth, the Bishop’s Wood Centre and Severn Trent Water for the support they have given this project.