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ASSET STEM aims to empower Pittsburgh kids as climate change leaders

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Kristy Locklin
February19/ 2019

Before discussing climate change with his students at Franklin Regional Middle School, sixth-grade science teacher A.J. Danny decided to educate himself on the subject.

He joined 23 other middle school teachers from Pittsburgh and surrounding counties enrolled in a new course called “Climate Leadership: From Classroom to Community.”

The three-day course is offered by ASSET STEM Education, a national educational improvement non-profit that’s based in Pittsburgh. A grant through the Alcoa Foundation covers all costs.

The idea behind the course is to train educators on the strategies, skills and equipment needed to get kids thinking like environmental scientists and understand matters that may impact them. Following their sessions, the teachers will meet in May to give presentations on how they applied the information – including the use of air quality monitors – in their schools.

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Teachers are key to getting kids excited about science.

Climate change and air quality is already a hot topic of conversation among the 100 students Danny teaches each day. The kids are aware that Pittsburgh’s air quality is among the worst in the nation, he says, and they’re conducting their own research on the matter.

But, with so much misinformation on television and the Internet, Danny wants to empower kids to be able to separate fact from fiction.

He plans to present an array of local climate change articles and photographs. He will challenge kids to find out if the stories are from credible sources and to look at the information from different perspectives. For instance, is a grainy snapshot of Pittsburgh caused by fog or pollution?

Eventually, Danny says, “I think they’re going to be more cautious when they see something on Instagram or Twitter. They will be educated on how to decipher if a piece of information is reliable and founded on scientific data. As a science teacher, that’s the most exciting part for me.”

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Through the Climate Leadership course, teachers learn strategies to empower their students to think like scientists.

It’s important for young people to establish the framework needed to properly investigate real-world issues, agrees Stephanie Rakowski, a senior professional development specialist for ASSET and one of the course’s three instructors.

The Climate Leadership course was inspired by a student-led rebuke of Idaho legislature’s 2017 decision to eliminate all references to climate change from their K-12 standards. Ilah Hickman, a Boise high school junior, testified before the state’s House Education Committee.

Through the advocacy of teenagers such as Hickman, Idaho lawmakers reversed their decision and approved an updated set of standards, including content on anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change.

That kind of student involvement is the intent of the course.

“We believe this new program will inspire a future generation of environmental scientists who will lead the way in solving complex problems in science, technology, engineering and math,” says Cynthia Pulkowski, executive director at ASSET.

Danny, for one, is excited to learn new skills and pass on that excitement to his students.

“The information they gave us is helping me become a better teacher,” he says.

ASSET, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, offers eight to 12 no-cost, grant-funded programs for teacher and more than 100 professional development courses each year. Find the schedule of upcoming ASSET offerings here.

Kristy Locklin

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