Opening just about any newspaper or tuning into a local newscast will inevitably reveal a story about a recent disaster or the possibility of an impending one. Whether it’s floods, fires, or storm-related devastation, we have become accustomed to not only reading or listening to these stories but increasingly experiencing them firsthand.
These catastrophic events are prime to elicit student interest, engagement, and questions and can serve as a catalyst to investigate natural phenomena. Yet, as educators, we also know and understand the balance we must maintain when teaching about such disastrous events, sometimes with an overwhelming human toll.
As former program director for STEM with NSTA Wendy Binder states, “There is no better driver of learning than witnessing what’s happening from a natural phenomenon in terms of impact on humans.” Additionally, as teachers, we can’t shy away from difficult topics, especially when we have the place and voice to help students understand, prepare, and consider solutions.
Our student population has been through a great deal in the last few years: a pandemic with gaps in school access, increased natural disasters, social unrest, and violence. Yet, as we know, when we shed light on a topic or event, we can understand it more thoroughly, leading to better decisions and finding solutions. We must be vigilant and empathic about what our students are exposed to; we must make careful choices about presenting events where a loss of life and property exists.
Instead of backing away from teaching about natural disasters, we must provide opportunities for our students to see how scientists and engineers are actively working on solutions by understanding climate changes and interactions of systems and creating early warning systems. Our students will live in a world with problems and challenges that we can’t even imagine, yet when they are equipped to think critically and look for patterns and connections, these future engineers and scientists will be poised to find solutions and meet those challenges.
As you read through the articles in this issue, you will see how intimidating topics such as wildfires and floods can be addressed and mitigated through a lens of solution-based teaching. Underlying all these events is our understanding of how climate change affects us all. The STEM Teaching Tool Practice Brief 68 (https://stemteachingtools.org/brief/68) highlights the importance of focusing on solutions without increasing anxiety and phobias. This will be where our work will need to continue to grow as we encounter an increase in the intensity and frequency of natural disasters. Yet, we must support our youngest learners where they are—and with hope and action.
We would appreciate hearing how you have addressed these topics in your classrooms. And we will be addressing these issues again when Science and Children focuses on Climate Justice for the March/April 2024 issue. Please see our Call for Papers at www.nsta.org/call-papers-science-and-children. Together we can support one another and our students.