Fifth-grade students teach Seacoast parents, residents and municipal officials about climate change

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Fifth-grade students from Oyster River Middle School (ORMS) had the opportunity to teach their parents, town residents and municipal officials from Durham, Lee, and Madbury, N.H., about climate change and its potential impacts to the community.

With large homemade informational posters on display — each containing a letter from the word “climate” on them — about 40 students took turns discussing various aspects of climate change with the municipal officials and answering their questions at the Durham Public Library on Wed., May 25th at 6 p.m. The posters covered topics including the benefits and drawbacks of climate change and possible steps that individuals and communities can take to help. 

Girl explains climate change poster to parents.

Parents gather around poster made by children.

Above: Students explain their climate change posters to parents and municipal officials at the Durham Public Library.

The students have been working with a team of three local professionals — Chris Keeley, communities and climate program coordinator for N.H. Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension; Amanda Stone, land and water conservation specialist for UNH Cooperative Extension; and Kyle Pimental, senior planner for the Strafford Regional Planning Commission. Keeley, Stone and Pimental have guided the class discussions with help from fifth grade teachers Chris Hall and Dave Montgomery at ORMS to teach the basic concepts of climate change and talk about potential impacts on the local level.

The goals of the project, Keeley said, were to help students understand the local impacts of climate change and to inspire action and motivation among themselves, their parents and municipal officials. It began with an idea from Keeley who reached out to ORMS fifth grade teachers to discuss doing this as a pilot project.

“Some of our best class projects come from serendipitous things like this opportunity, where we decide to try something new and exciting and we just take the plunge,” Hall said. “Dave and I accepted the invitation to work with UNH and connect our students with authentic learning opportunities that would fit our curriculum,” he explained.

Woman teaches students about climate change in small group.

Above: Amanda Stone (second from L) talks to students about their climate change poster.

Hall and Montgomery worked with the students to research background information about climate change, and Keeley, Stone and Pimental came into the classroom a few times to help the students work on drafts of the posters and help prepare them for questions they might receive at the community meeting. Although a public presentation to municipal officials may seem advanced for a fifth grade class project, Hall and Montgomery knew the students were up for the challenge.

“Many people don’t realize what fifth graders are capable of — their higher-order thinking skills, their ability to ask complex questions and grasp the issues,” Hall said.

A lot of the fifth graders didn’t know much about climate change when Hall first began teaching the subject this year, he said, and so it was imperative to convey the right tone from the start. “We tried to teach the subject in a way that wasn’t too scary, but we wanted to be honest about it,” Hall explained. “We had to strike a balance there. These are difficult issues that their generation is going to face, but we don’t want to alarm them too much,” he added.

Two men compare 6 feet of sea level rise to student's height.

Above: Kyle Pimental (L) and Chris Keeley (R) show what six feet of sea-level rise will look like compared to the tallest student's height.

Keeley said it was exciting to see how students make meaning of climate change because they look at the world very differently than adults do. For example, when listing the pros and cons of climate change during a recent class discussion, some students associated hotter summers with more time they could spend at the beach. One discussion turned into a somewhat lively debate over whether fewer snow days would be a benefit or detriment.

“It’s really exciting for us to work with experts in the field because it brings real-life learning to the kids,” Hall said. “It’s not just a school activity, these are real problems being worked on by scientists and adults in our community right now,” he added. 

Three boys write ideas on poster for climate change.

Above: Three students write down their ideas about how climate change might impact their community.

“This project has been personally fulfilling for me to know that we’re reaching the next generation,” Keeley said. “We’re starting to create a new body of institutional knowledge with the younger generation that will have to deal with climate change in the long run,” he added.

This project was funded by the N.H. Coastal Program through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Check out more photos from this project. For more information, please contact Amanda Stone at amanda.stone@unh.edu or 603.862.1067.

N.H. Sea Grant promotes the wise use, conservation and sustainable development of marine and coastal resources in the state, the region and beyond. Located at the University of New Hampshire, NHSG is part of a national network of programs located in our coastal and Great Lakes states as well as in Puerto Rico and Guam.   

 

Rebecca Zeiber, N.H. Sea Grant Science Writer