When Ohio Sea Grant received a grant from NOAA to add more climate information into its programming in 2011, the program had no idea how far it could go.
“We had these great components — updated climate science lessons for classroom teachers, a successful climate webinar series educating thousands, and a survey outlining what our stakeholders wanted in terms of climate information,” said Jill Jentes Banicki, Ohio Sea Grant’s assistant director for communications. “But we wanted to also develop something that could help informal educators in parks or nature centers teach about climate.”
Stone Lab with its field trip program was the perfect spot to test a new tool and with the combined creativity of Sea Grant education & outreach specialists Sue Bixler, Angela Greene and Lyndsey Manzo and communications’ Christina Dierkes, the Stone Lab Climate Walk was born.
The Climate Walk is a seven-stop journey across Stone Lab’s Gibraltar Island where students learn how climate change will affect things that are local and relevant to them. Topics range from how climate change will alter resident bird and tree ranges to how water levels will rise in the Great Lakes.
Designed to link physical features around the island to climate change topics, the idea of the walk was to not create new climate learning concepts, but to use existing ones.
“We realized as we began to discuss what topics to include, we could do something innovative,” said Manzo. “We could build the Walk’s content using NOAA’s Climate Literacy Principles and show how those seven principles can guide place-based education in an informal educational setting.”
The principles themselves provide the basic information a person should know to be climate literate and what a teacher should teach to meet standards in their climate science curriculum.
With a traveling set of the Climate Walk panels in hand, the Sea Grant educators began introducing the climate tools to hundreds of formal and informal educators across the region through workshops, conferences and webinars. From partnered webinars with teacher stipends to presentations at a National Science Teachers Association conference, Sea Grant disseminated its updated climate curriculum lessons and the Climate Walk broadly to educators nationwide.
Two of those educators were Catherine Timko, Cleveland’s Lake Erie Nature and Science Center (LENSC) executive director and Char Shryock, Bay Village City Schools director of curriculum and instruction.
“We’ve learned through our decades-long partnership with Sea Grant that any time we can model something that Ohio Sea Grant Education creates, we will,” explained Timko. “So when Ohio Sea Grant’s Sarah Orlando and Sue Bixler showed us the Climate Walk, we instantly knew we needed to incorporate those panels into our program.”
Thanks to a Bay Village Education Foundation grant in 2015, Bay Village created a pilot program of the Climate Walk that also supplied weather stations throughout the schools for real-time data collection.
“We’ve learned through our decades-long partnership with Sea Grant that any time we can model something that Ohio Sea Grant Education creates, we will.”
Three additional grants from the Ohio Environmental Education Fund, the Gund Foundation and The Cleveland Foundation brought in teacher training in the form of a Climate Literacy Academy: for the past two years, Bay Village Schools has trained 30 teachers from grades 3-11 on the climate concepts so they can bring the Climate Walk panels and supplemental lessons into their classrooms.
In addition, the grant funding provided support for the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center to incorporate the Climate Walk into its informal education center, adjusting the Walk into wall wraps and adding an interactive module. Expected to be completed later this year, LENSC plans to use the exhibits to integrate climate in all areas of its programming to help educate its 165,000 yearly visitors from kids to adults about climate change.
“What has been so great about this project is that we did what Sea Grant does so well — bringing in all areas of our program to create the most effective tools to educate our stakeholders,” concluded Bixler. “If we can help those kids on our field trips or in the schools become more informed decision makers based on the science they learn today, we will have done our jobs as educators.”