UI scientists and Iowa teachers work together to create 8th grade curriculum


Kasey Dresser & Jenna Ladd | November 3, 2017

Eighth grade teachers from around the state came to the University of Iowa’s Lindquist Center for a special kind of professional development last weekend.

The twenty-one participants worked with University of Iowa faculty and graduate students to design new eighth-grade science curriculum as a part of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) development. A large step away from traditional rote memorization, NGSS allows students to engage in self-guided inquiry about phenomena occurring in their local environment.

Chelsea Salba is a high school science teacher at Dike-New Hartford. She said, “I love it all because the old way of doing things was ‘know and understand.’ Well, science is not memorizing facts and figures. It never has been. NGSS challenges teachers to make science actually happen in their classrooms. What I mean by that is [the students] are investigating, reading, creating a claim, doing something, getting feedback and then doing it again.”

Ted Neal, clinical associate professor in the College of Education and project lead, explained that eighth grade NGSS curriculum requires education about the natural systems and climate science. During morning and afternoon breakout sessions, teachers were asked to provide feedback about lesson plans related to how and why Iowans have changed the land and how climate change has affected local landscapes. These lesson plans, bundles five and six, are a part of a six bundle curriculum required by NGSS for eighth grade students. CGRER researchers Scott Spak and Charles Stanier developed their content as a part of the College of Education and CGRER’s effort to connect Iowa educators with local climate science in realtime.

Approved by the Iowa Board of Education in 2015, the bulk of the 8th grade NGSS curriculum will be implemented in Iowa schools next semester. The Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative team has recently developed a free and public online pressbook where Iowa teachers can access course-related climate science data from CGRER researchers, as well as lesson plans and suggestions from other Iowa teachers.

Ted Neal explained, “This whole curriculum is free. Use it how you want, where you want, how you want, we’re just trying to compile this together for school districts in a time when budgeting is so tight.”

The NGSS standards require students of all ages to understand Earth’s systems. Scott Spak, assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning, 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.”

Spak and his fellow CGRER researchers will provide data that is relevant to learners specifically in the Hawkeye State.

Drew Ayrit is high school teacher from Waco that participated in last weekend’s workshop. He said, “I really believe in the standards because it’s very student-centered, students doing real science, students engaging in discussion based on evidence.”

Citizen Science Workshop this weekend


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Jenna Ladd| October 17, 2017

A citizen science workshop will be held on Saturday, October 21st at the University of Iowa Memorial Union. Hosted by the UI Geoinformatics for Environmental and Energy Modeling and Prediction (GEEMaP) Program, the half-day workshop will provide information about opportunities for Iowa residents to participate in research related to wildlife, water quality, and natural resource management. Dr. Kristine Stepenuck, Extension Assistant Professor of Watershed Science, Policy and Education at the University of Vermont, will be the free event’s keynote speaker.

More information can be found on the event’s Facebook page and the University of Iowa events calendar 

Attendees will be invited to sign up to participate in citizen science projects.

What: Citizen Science Workshop

When: Saturday, October 21, 9:00 am to 12:00 pm

Where: Illinois Room, Iowa Memorial Union, University of Iowa

Cost: Free, open to public

On The Radio – Leaves drop early due to fall drought


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Some leaves in Iowa fell to the ground before changing color this year due to drought. (Liz West/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | October 9, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how drought conditions in late September pushed some trees into early dormancy.

Transcript: Tree leaves in Iowa began changing colors and falling to the ground earlier than usual this year due to drought conditions.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Leaf color change is closely tied to weather conditions. During the last week of September, the U.S. Drought Portal reported that about thirty percent of Iowa was experiencing abnormally dry conditions and about twenty-five percent of the state was in a moderate drought.

Officials from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources explained that if trees do not have enough moisture, they can be pushed into dormancy earlier than usual. As a result, many leaves died and fell from trees before they bursted into autumn’s hues of red, yellow and orange this year.

In a typical year, leaves change color in northern Iowa between the last week of September and the second week of October, from the first to third weeks of October in central Iowa and from the second to fourth weeks of October in southern Iowa.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Climate change to disproportionately affect the poor


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Researchers provide visual representations of projected damages related to climate change. (Journal Science)
Jenna Ladd | July 3, 2017

A study published in the journal Science found that climate change will likely cause economic damages for the poorest parts of the U.S. while economically benefiting more affluent areas.

Researchers figured the economic costs of climate-related impacts like rising sea levels, more extreme weather and higher temperatures. They ran many simulations which calculated the potential costs and benefits of each phenomenon for a variety of industries and business sectors. They figured that on average, the U.S. will lose roughly 0.7 percent gross domestic product (GDP) per 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperatures. This economic burden, however, will not be shared equally by all parts of the country.

The poorest counties in the U.S., which are mostly in the South and southern Midwest, are likely to suffer the most intense economic downturn, with some counties expected to lose more than 20 percent of their gross county product.

Solomon Hsiang is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and one of the study’s authors. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said, “What we’re seeing here is that climate change will have a very large impact on the quality of life and economic opportunity in the coming decades for ourselves and our children.”

The Northern and Western U.S. are likely to experience fewer economic consequences. Some areas may benefit from the changing climate where higher temperatures mean longer farming seasons and lower energy costs. Hsiang said, “The poor regions will get poorer and the richer regions will benefit.”

Iowa will likely fall in line with projections for the Midwest. Researchers warned that agricultural markets could see economic devastation similar to that experienced during the Dust Bowl.

At present, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans earn about 20 percent of all U.S. income. The researchers warn that climate change may further widen this earning gap. The report reads, “Combining impacts across sectors reveals that warming causes a net transfer of value from Southern, Central and Mid-Atlantic regions toward the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region, and New England. … [B]ecause losses are largest in regions that are already poorer on average, climate change tends to increase preexisting inequality in the United States.”

Iowa teachers lead development of Next Generation Science curriculum


Teachers work in small groups to develop curriculum plans that align with Iowa’s new science standards. (Left to right: Taylor Schlicher, Southeast Junior High; Zach Miller, University of Iowa MAT Science Education; Susanna Ziemer, University of Iowa MAT Science Education; Ted Neal, Clinical Instructor, University of Iowa; Courtney Van Wyk, Pella Christian Grade School; Stacey DeCoster; Grinnell Middle School)

Jenna Ladd| June 22, 2017

Science teachers gathered at the University of Iowa’s Lindquist Center on Tuesday to develop new curriculum for eighth grade students.

The working group was hosted by the UI College of Education and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) as a part of the Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative. The joint initiative seeks to make the transition to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were approved by the Iowa Board of Education in 2015, easier for Iowa teachers. Clinical instructor Ted Neal along with education graduate students Susanna Herder, Andrea Malek and Zachary Miller have begun developing curriculum bundles for 8th grade science classes that meet the NGSS standards.

Many of the NGSS standards require students to explore how the Earth’s climate system works. For its part, CGRER plans to make some of its members’ climate science data available to Iowa educators. Using an open inquiry approach, students can answer their own questions about topics such as land use or weather patterns in their local environment.

During the day’s opening remarks Ted Neal said, “The research is very clear that if we do open inquiry with kids, the learning is off the charts.”

Neal and his team of graduate students presented an eighth grade science course plan that included six curriculum bundles, with each bundle meeting certain NGSS benchmarks. Bundles five and six have already been developed by the College of Education team and CGRER member Dr. Scott Spak. Tuesday’s goal, Neal explained, was for the seven teachers in attendance to take the lead on the development of the four additional curriculum bundles.

Bundle five provides students access to aerial maps of their communities from throughout history. Students are free to observe how land use in Iowa has changed over time and what effects that may have on natural systems. Chelsie Slaba teaches science at Dike-New Hartford High School and tried the map lesson with her students last year. Slaba said, “I was surprised. I heard it here and thought, ‘I don’t know if that will really work.’ I tried and who knew maps could be so interesting to them?” She continued, “They looked at their own family farms, because a lot of my kids live on farms or their grandparents’ [farms] or a special place to them to hone in on.”

Slaba used only NGSS with her ninth grade students last year and plans to implement the standards with her physics students next year. She added, “It was really empowering as a teacher.”

The Iowa K-12 Climate Science Education Initiative plans to begin developing curriculum bundles for grades five and six in the fall. Ultimately, Neal explained, the group aims to host a free online database where all curriculum and related scientific data are available free of charge to Iowa educators.

The morning session concluded with teachers broken up into smaller groups brainstorming ideas for bundles one through four. The educators rattled off phenomena related to the standards that still resonate with eighth-graders: cell phones to explore energy use, tennis shoes to explain resource extraction, driving cars to investigate physics.

Slaba said that some teachers are afraid to allow for more student-led lessons due to the pressure they feel for their students to perform well on standardized tests. However, her experience thus far may assuage their worries. She said, “Over the three years, my Iowa assessment scores have just gone up by a few percent each time.”

Nordic nations demand Trump’s acknowledgement of climate change in Arctic circle


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An arctic beach off of the Norwegian sea. (Tony Armstrong/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 11, 2017

Representatives from eight Arctic nations will gather in Fairbanks, Alaska today for the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting.

At the meeting, the end of the United States two-year chairmanship of the council will be marked with a final statement summarizing U.S. accomplishments as chair. Officials from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden have not yet signed off on the statement because they say that the Trump administration deemphasizes climate change and the Paris climate accord in the document. The language of the document must be approved by all parties prior to its presentation for signing.

The other member countries say that President Trump has reversed the commitment that President Obama made to climate issues when the U.S. became chair in 2015. Along with Russia, the current administration has suggested opening up the Arctic to more drilling. The White House is also considering pulling out of the Paris climate pact, which was signed by over 200 nations in 2015.

Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden recently made a joint statement pledging to take the lead on climate change and energy policy and firmly backing the Paris accord. At the ministerial meeting’s end, Finland will become head of council.

Although the current administration has taken decisive steps to dismantle climate change policy, David Balton, the State Department’s assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, said, “The U.S. will remain engaged in the work the Arctic Council does on climate change throughout. I am very confident there will be no change in that regard.”

New administration stifles publication of climate change science


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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Haydn Blackey/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | January 26, 2017

Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has worked to eliminate climate science from the public arena.

Hours after swearing in, the new administration removed climate-related information from the White House website. The only reference to climate change now visible on the site is a promise to throw out “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.”

The Trump administration also ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove its climate change webpage on Tuesday, according to reports from two anonymous EPA employees. The sources say the page could go down as early as Wednesday. The agency has also been banned from making press releases, writing blog posts and communicating via social media while the Trump administration make its transition into power.

In a recent interview with NPR, Doug Ericksen, the head of communication for the Trump administration’s EPA transition team, said that throughout the transition period, scientists will be subject to an internal vetting process before they can make their conclusions public.

Ericksen said, “We’ll take a look at what’s happening so that the voice coming from the EPA is one that’s going to reflect the new administration.”

He did not say whether the review process would become a permanent hurdle for EPA scientists. Ericksen said, “We’re on day two here…You’ve got to give us a few days to get our feet underneath us.”

Any internal vetting at the EPA directly contradicts its scientific integrity policy. The policy, established in 2012, “Prohibits all EPA employees, including scientists, managers, and other Agency leadership, from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific findings or conclusions.”

It is not unusual for new administrations to curb public outreach while its agencies adjust to the transition of power but government vetting of scientific work is uncommon.

Andrew Light, a senior fellow in the Global Climate Program at the nonpartisan World Resources Institute, said, “It’s certainly the case that every administration tries to control information, but I think that what we’re seeing here is much more sweeping than has ever been done before.” Light added, “And in particular, it’s noteworthy that it seems to be aimed at a cluster of science-driven agencies that primarily work on the environment and climate change.”