CGRER and UI College of Education

CGRER – UI College of Education - Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative

Iowa teachers will soon be following new science education standards in K-12 classrooms.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are a set of science and engineering standards for grades K-12 that shift students' focus from rote memorization to participating in the scientific process. Within the new system, cross-disciplinary learning and self-taught exploration are encouraged. For example, one high school standard asks students to "design, evaluate and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity."

Iowa led the development of NGSS along with 25 other states. The standards are the result of a collaborative effort between states and stakeholders in science, science education, higher education, and industry. NGSS development was subject to review by several advisory committees that included nationally-renowned leaders in science and science education as well as two public review periods.

Within the four major scientific domains of physical science, life science, earth and space science, and engineering, students will engage in investigational learning about climate change.

A recent survey of 133 science teachers in the state by Iowa Watch found that only 20 percent of teachers think that climate change should be taught as fact. Scott Spak, assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning and Environmental Policy member at the Public Policy Center, points out the Iowa Core science standards already require teachers to teach climate science. He said, "Of the dozens of standards, there are 36 that from kindergarten through high school that are required to be able to understand how the climate system works."

“The Iowa Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt NGSS in August of 2015. Since then, the University of Iowa's Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) and College of Education have been working to understand which resources teachers need to implement NGSS in their classrooms,”  stated Spak.

Ted Neal a Clinical Science Instructor at the University of Iowa and one of the project leaders, said, "They're is an attempt to shift how we teach and how kids learn to a more integrated approach...It rearranges how kids learn into a more appropriate method that addresses high order thinking skills instead of rote memorization and regurgitation."

Both Spak and Neal are working with CGRER to make the transition easier for Iowa’s educators. Spak said, "Our project this year is looking at surveying teachers in Iowa, surveying administrators in Iowa to understand what's our best guess right now for what teachers need the most and what we can provide most readily to accelerate and enhance the ability of our schools to be able to not just meet these new standards as a new challenge, but to help them bring this transformative set of ideas into their classrooms effectively."

The new standards will not be mandatory statewide for another few years, however, many school districts in the state have been implementing the changes ahead of schedule. "That's one of the nice things about Iowa and Iowa teachers is that they care so much that they're in front of it, they're trying to get ahead of the game. They're not looking at this with apprehension," stated Neal.

CGRER and the College of Education have hired two graduate research assistants to help implement the project. 


Meet our Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative Research Assistants

Susanna Herder is pursuing a Masters of Arts in Teaching in secondary science and is a research assistant with the College of Education and CGRER. While working as a research assistant she hopes to gain wisdom from in-service teachers, collaborate to develop real solutions to their problems, and work to apply this knowledge herself when she graduates. She's excited to help Iowa lead as energy innovators and promote environmental consciousness with her students and coworkers.

Andrea Malek is a research assistant pursuing an M.S. in STEM Education. She is excited to work with other teachers and ultimately make climate science more accessible as part of NGSS curricula. She also teaches in the Home School Assistance Program of the Cedar Rapids School District. In the classroom, she loves working with students to question answers and develop ideas.