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Changes in Our Local Environment

Alaska Seas and Rivers Curriculum, Alaska Sea Grant

Developed for Alaska Native students, this activity can be customized for other regions. Students interview elders or other long-term residents of the community to document their knowledge of local changes to the landscape and climate. Based on the information and photos they acquired from the interview, students return to photo locations to observe and record changes. Finally, they develop ideas about potential impacts of a warming climate to the ecosystem that surrounds them.

Activity takes 9 to 11 class periods with possibility of some of this accomplished as outside work.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate change vs. climate variability and patterns
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4c
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
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Ecosystems on land and in the ocean have been and will continue to be disturbed by climate change
About Teaching Principle 7
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Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:A) Organisms, populations, and communities
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A) Organisms, populations, and communities.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
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C) Systems and connections.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.3 Humans and Their Societies:B) Culture
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B) Culture.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:B) Places
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B) Places.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • This lesson is easily adaptable for other communities in the world.
  • Instructor may want to provide students with a scoring rubric that outlines science and research content.
  • The research project/interview and presentation can be tied together by inviting the elders and other community members to the school to see the finished posters or student work. (A similar step is done in the evaluation and extension of curricular connections)
  • Reviewing the differences between weather and climate at the beginning of the activity is highly recommended.
  • The url for the video 'Saving a Community: Shishmaref, Alaska' has changed to http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4122110218242037798
  • Community-based and could be combined with community mapping projects.

About the Science

  • Students research changes to the environment in the Arctic/Bering Sea over time using oral and photographic histories.
  • Comments from expert scientist: it treads the line between cultural and scientific knowledge, and in doing so places equal weight on personal interpretation of observations. Very little actual data-driven science is involved, but that's not the point.
  • It certainly bridges the gap between climate change as a phenomena and cultural knowledge, and if pulled off could be very interesting at both educating the students and the community at large.
  • The photo project especially has good potential to make climate change "real" to a young group of kids.

About the Pedagogy

  • This is an open-ended inquiry based activity.
  • Students gain expertise in interview techniques and comparing historic environmental photos with recent photos. There is a great deal of support for the teachers and students in terms of interview and photo comparison techniques. These are some of the techniques being employed by scientists today to explore changes in climate.
  • Uses the 5E/ inquiry model.
  • Builds writing and communication skills.
  • Students interact with elder and community members in a non-teaching situation and learn how to interview people.
  • Nine to eleven class periods is a long time to spend on such a project, but there are many skills being learned and explored in these open-ended activities. In addition, it may be possible to decrease the class periods needed by encouraging students to complete much of the work as homework or an out-of-class project.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Historic photos may need to be collected and scanned in if possible. There are video and image resources available but teachers and students will probably need to find some local historic images and scan them in.

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