By Breanna C. Beaver, Shannon L. Navy, Annie Runde, Melissa Sladek, and Eve West
Given the rapid climate changes occurring globally today, it is more important than ever for science educators to teach students about climate change evidence, impacts, and solutions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2021) concludes that climate change is anthropogenic and causes changes to the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere. These induced changes increase temperatures, heat waves, droughts, natural disasters, and sea levels. If collective action is not taken, there may be irreversible damage to humans and the ecosystem. Climate change education is needed to adapt to the current impacts and mitigate the future risks of climate change.
Climate change is an important educational topic included in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013). Yet there are limited high-quality climate change educational resources (CCER) for science educators, which creates a barrier to climate change instruction. Educators require high-quality CCER that are credible and relevant and allow students opportunities to analyze real data (Sullivan et al. 2014). Fortunately, some of America’s national parks provide such high-quality CCER for educators.
To address the lack of high-quality resources available in climate change education, the first author, Breanna (Bre) Beaver reflected on her own experiences as a high school Earth science teacher in Ohio. Bre’s passion for teaching Earth science often led her to explore national parks and learn more about the resources they provide for educators. Bre incorporated many of these resources into her instruction. For example, in one project, students investigated the geology of national parks by selecting a national park of their choice and researching authentic data about fossils, minerals, rocks, landscapes, and plate tectonics in that national park. In addition, students were required to reach out to national park employees to ask park-related geology questions. Soon the class had many letters, postcards, and park information delivered from national parks across the country. Through collaboration with national parks, students were able to expand their learning in relevant, meaningful ways.
In other classes, Bre’s students took virtual field trips to Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska, completed a case study on the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and even created their own fictional national park to learn about surface and groundwater features. Through the use of the national park resources, Bre found that students were highly engaged due to the variety of geographic locations, the social interaction with national park employees, and the authentic place-based information. Based on these experiences, when Bre needed to find high-quality CCER, she looked to America’s national parks.
In total, there are 424 National Park Service (NPS) sites in the United States, with 63 of them designated as official national parks. The official national park sites are located in various geographic regions, making them widespread and excellent educational partners for educators across the country. In addition, due to their unique and varied locations, national parks can address a range of climate change topics from ecological and social perspectives. From an ecological perspective, the national parks highlight the impacts of climate change on landscapes and species. From a social perspective, the national parks connect climate change to history, culture, and traditions (National Park Service 2016).
To determine the CCER available to educators from the NPS, the first and second authors surveyed official national park employees and analyzed the findings from a resource perspective (Navy et al. 2020). Thirty-nine (61.9%) of the official 63 national parks responded to the survey. Of those, 33 (84.6%) offer CCER for educators. This article translates the results from this survey to science educators and highlights the CCER at specific national parks.
The findings revealed that the national parks offer a variety of CCER (see Table 1). Some CCER were available locally—such as field trips, guided tours, student camps, and in-person classroom visits—making these great resources for place-based education. Other resources were not bound by location and included educator workshops, virtual classroom visits, educational worksheets, and authentic park data. In addition, some national parks offer “other” unique resources, such as climate change tool kits and opportunities for citizen science projects. Within and between the available resources, the national parks provide relevant CCER that connect to the local community, assist in the visualization of climate change impacts, and promote student engagement in scientific research.
To share some of these resources with science educators, the following sections highlight the CCER available from three national parks to showcase the various resources available within the national parks to support climate change instruction.
Mount Rainier National Park is located near Ashford, Washington, and assists nearly 300 educators a year. Mount Rainier offers educator workshops, field trips, guided tours, in-person classroom visits, and virtual classroom visits related to climate change. These resources offer relevant climate change content aligned with scientific inquiry and practices.
Science educators interested in growing their professional knowledge on climate change can participate in Mount Rainier’s in-person training program for educators. This free workshop includes park admission and camping. This program engages science educators through hands-on activities, hiking opportunities, and presentations. In addition to improving climate change content knowledge, science educators can also enhance their science skills by participating in scientific research on pikas or flower phenology. During the summer of 2021, Mount Rainier held its first climate justice–themed educator training in partnership with the Nisqually Tribe.
Students can also have an immersive experience by attending Mount Rainier’s climate change field trip and associated guided tour, Changing Climate, Changing Parks. This free field trip is designed specifically for high school biology or Earth science classes. During a snowshoe program, students join a park ranger on a four-hour hike through the park. Throughout the trek, students see firsthand the climate change impacts on the Nisqually Glacier and discuss its regression over the past several decades.
Local educators can request an in-person classroom visit from a Mount Rainier park ranger. These visits last about 45 minutes and include a climate change presentation along with hands-on, interactive activities. These lessons focus on the climate change impacts at Mount Rainier, with details covering the melting glaciers and associated impacts on students and the community.
Educators who are not local to the Mount Rainier region have opportunities to collaborate with Mount Rainier National Park through its distance learning program. The park offers a 45- to 60-minute virtual classroom visit, Ask A Ranger. During this program, rangers interact with students through video conferencing and discuss the impacts of climate change at Mount Rainier.
The National Park Service’s most recent national park, New River Gorge National Park, is located near Glen Jean, West Virginia, and assists nearly 250 educators a year. New River Gorge offers educational handouts/units, field trips, and in-person classroom visits related to climate change. These resources provide relevant, diverse content to teach climate change.
New River Gorge provides a climate change unit, Climate and New River Gorge. This resource can be used by any science educator and includes 10 lesson plans with educational handouts and presentations. The unit consists of multiple climate change topics, including climate vs. weather, greenhouse gases, and climate change impacts. Further, this unit aims to improve students’ science skills through exercises that incorporate collaboration, communication, explanation, research, information literacy, and decision-making.
Local educators can take advantage of field trips to New River Gorge and in-person classroom visits. One field trip that addresses climate change is the Phenology Lab. During this lab, students build research skills by identifying and recording local phenology data. In-person classroom visits can focus on climate change by discussing climate change impacts, the greenhouse effect, and authentic data.
Glacier National Park is located near West Glacier, Montana, and assists nearly 100 educators yearly. Glacier offers CCER, including educator workshops, educational handouts/units, authentic park data, field trips, guided tours, and student camps. The strengths of these resources include the variety of formats and hands-on approach to learning.
In previous years, participating educators learned about climate change during a four-day overnight workshop. During this experience, educators met with experts to learn about glacier research, wildlife impacts, and landscape changes. Educators also gained access to educational handouts, including resource briefs and fact sheets. These handouts focus on resource issues stemming from climate change, such as the impacts on native fish. Finally, this workshop highlights the availability of a repeat photography climate change traveling trunk that contains photos of glaciers, maps, and information on climate change that educators can use in their classrooms.
Educators locally and across the United States can use resources from Glacier. Glacier offers various media options to share authentic park information, such as photos, videos, podcasts, and online articles. These resources include information on glacier research, hydrology, and ice-patch archeology. The “Glacier Repeat Photos” section on the park’s website (see Online Connections) allows students to compare the change in the volume of park glaciers by looking at historic photos versus present-day photos. This side-by-side comparison offers a compelling visual to show how climate change is reducing glaciers and may cause Glacier National Park to lose its namesake.
Students can actively learn about climate change through park field trips and guided tours at Glacier. Glacier recently developed a new field trip on huckleberry phenology. During this trip, students can visibly observe changes to the phenology of huckleberries due to a changing climate and assess how changes in phenology might impact wildlife. This field trip also integrates technology, engaging students by entering data online through the United States Geological Survey Huckleberry App. Guided tours are also available, which take students on a hike through the park while discussing the impacts of climate change.
America’s national parks are dedicated to supporting science educators in climate change education by providing a variety of CCER as well as social support. National park resources allow for various instructional methods, a broad range of climate change topics, and accessible materials for all educators. The three national parks highlighted in this study provide a sampling of available resources, and the guide for using CCER provides tips for educators to find CCER within all the national parks. Table 1 indicates the additional CCER available from national parks included in the full survey.
National parks situate climate change locally and globally. Therefore, climate change instruction informed by resources from national parks can use local, national, and global perspectives. Resources from local national parks can be engaging and relevant to students as they facilitate students’ connections to the outdoors and home communities. From these resources, students can visually see the impact of climate change, inspiring the need for action. However, each park can address only so many components of climate change, especially those pertinent to the park location. Collectively, the CCER from America’s national parks can cover the diverse topics of climate change, from melting glaciers in Alaska to coral bleaching in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In addition to the many resources on climate change, the diverse array of parks and geographic locations provides various opportunities for science education. For example, student groups could research different national parks and the prevalent climate change impacts at those parks. Groups could then share their findings with the class to better understand the collective climate change evidence, impacts, and solutions.
Teaching about climate change is important for current and future generations. Science educators are encouraged to connect with the national parks as park employees are knowledgeable and able to provide CCER for meaningful science instruction and learning. Collaboration and access to high-quality resources help make climate change education possible in science classrooms across the United States.
Mount Rainier National Park Climate Change Page: https://bit.ly/3pDwrK3
New River Gorge National Park Climate Change Page: https://bit.ly/3MJZN2N
Glacier National Park Climate Change Page: https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/nature/climate-change.htm
Glacier Repeat Photos: https://www.nps.gov/glac/learn/nature/glacier-repeat-photos.htm
NPS Climate Change Page: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/index.htm
List of National Park Climate Change Pages: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/ccpages.htm
Drawing Connections Video Series: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/drawing-connections.htm
National Park System: https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/national-park-system.htm
Breanna C. Beaver (email@example.com) is a recent doctoral graduate in curriculum and instruction, science education at Kent State University, Kent, OH. Shannon L. Navy is an associate professor of science education at Kent State University, Kent, OH. Annie Runde was an education ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, Ashford, WA. Melissa Sladek is an interpretive media specialist at Glacier National Park, West Glacier, MT. Eve West is the chief of interpretation at New River Gorge National Park, Glen Jean, WV.
Beaver, B.C., and S.L. Navy. 2022. Climate change educational resources from national parks in the United States. Journal of Experiential Education. https://doi.org/10.1177/10538259221140317
IPCC. 2021. Climate Change 2021: The physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. New York: Cambridge University Press.
National Park Service. 2016. Climate change in national parks [brochure]. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/climatechange/upload/climate-change-unigrid-for-web-feb2017.pdf
Navy, S.L., R.S.Nixon, J.A. Luft, and M.A. Jurkiewicz. 2020. Accessed or latent resources? Exploring new secondary science teachers’ networks of resources. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 57 (2): 184–208. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.21591
NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Sullivan, S.M.B., T.S. Ledley, S.E. Lynds, and A.U. Gold. 2014. Navigating climate science in the classroom: Teacher preparation, perceptions and practices. Journal of Geoscience Education 62 (4): 550–559. https://doi.org/10.5408/12-304.1