Research News

Teachers and Scientists Meet at NASA GISS for Climate Change Workshop

Posted June 4, 2014

On April 28, 2014, the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York hosted a unique gathering for secondary teachers, climate researchers and education specialists to connect NASA's cutting edge climate change science with how students are learning and getting ready for the world.

The Climate Change in the Classroom (CCIC) Workshop involved 33 teachers who teach subjects across the curriculum in New York City's Community School District 4 and Illinois's Glenbard Public Schools and Consolidated Community School District 93. These middle and high school teachers came to the CCIC to raise their awareness about the headlining story of climate change, and also to get an insider's view of the scientific process from NASA GISS scientists on the frontlines of advancing knowledge that put climate change on the national agenda.

Photo of scientist talking with teachers.

NASA scientist Dr. George Tselioudis (right) met with New York City and Glenbard, Ill., educators at a NASA professional development course on climate change in New York, N.Y.

The CCIC is a spin-off of a past GISS educational activity, the Institute on Climate on Planets (ICP). ICP (1994-2004) was a nationally recognized program for engaging New York City metro area students and teachers from middle school through college in climate research experiences. The participation of teachers from NYC's District 4 is especially momentous for their superintendent, Alexandra Estrella. "As an alum of GISS ICP I know firsthand the importance of engaging young people in authentic science investigations. The CCIC's emphasis on real world data and scientific process provides our teachers with the tools to bring the scientific world into the classroom and help spark students' life-long curiosity and love for science. Already, CCIC teachers are sharing with their colleagues best practices for addressing the Common Core through authentic problems for students to explore the nature, causes, impacts and choices concerning climate change."

Initially supported by a grant from NASA's Climate Change Education Program, CCIC represents a new and evolving initiative for GISS educational outreach — building a professional learning community among teachers and scientists for teaching climate change, addressing national education standards and expanding student learning opportunities for real world problem-solving.

Throughout the CCIC workshop teachers interacted in various ways with NASA and Columbia University scientists at GISS. Together, they watched excerpts from Showtime's climate change series, Years of Living Dangerously. The film motivated a teacher-scientist dialogue to refine teacher knowledge about key ideas concerning what we know about how climate is changing and some of the impacts. A special highlight of these discussions was the involvement of Dr. Radley Horton, a Columbia University researcher at GISS featured in the Years series. "The Years of Living Dangerously demonstrates how climate affects our everyday lives. Teachers operate at the perfect scale to encourage discussion among students about to what extent their everyday experiences fit into a broader global context," said Radley Horton.

In the majority of workshop sessions teachers collaborated on interdisciplinary teams and with GISS scientists to develop lessons that draw on materials from the beta climate change curriculum: Hot: One World, One Climate. Hot is designed to resonate with students by connecting the various challenges of climate change to their lives — a youth in Miami facing the effects of extreme weather and sea level rise, the Alaskan native student who sees rapidly melting permafrost and sea ice, the urban New Yorker dealing with intense summer heat waves.

The workshop moderator, Ryan Goble, masterfully guided the teachers in customizing a Hot lesson to meet the needs of students in their classes, school curriculum, the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. Ryan, a nationally recognized teacher professional development expert and founder of the CCIC partner organization, Mindlblue Productions, said, "We designed the learning experience to be highly differentiated — giving teachers a chance to explore authentic, inquiry- and literacy-based teaching practices and scientific content while choosing their own Hot curriculum adventure to work on and evolve for their students in back at school."

Learn more about this workshop in the video Climate Change in the Classroom Workshop produced by Rhys Daunic for The Media Spot, on Vimeo.

At the CCIC, participants deepened their awareness of climate change, while gaining teaching strategies for engaging students in Problem Based Learning (PBL), collaborative learning and critical thinking. "The experience was the best professional development conference I have attended in 28 years of teaching," said CCIC physics teacher, Brian Loynachan, from Glenbard High School East.

The teachers had a chance to meet with several notable GISS scientists. Among the GISS scientists were GISS Deputy Director Gavin Schmidt and Columbia University researcher Pushker Kharecha, the lead scientist for Hot and the CCIC. Kharecha said, "It is very encouraging to see how motivated the teachers are to enhance their understanding of the science of climate change and integrate it into their curricula. Educating youth and future generations about this highly relevant and important topic is vital so that they can make scientifically informed decisions now and as adults."

Other NASA and Columbia University scientists involved in the workshop included George Tselioudis, Alex Ruane, Dorothy Peteet, Tim Hall, Ron Miller, and Barbara Carlson. CCIC is a rare opportunity for teachers to learn from and co-create education materials with these world-class scientists. As one teacher commented, "The time to work on curriculum/lesson plan development and the support to feel empowered in one experience is exceedingly rare in our profession​. These were memories and experiences I'll carry with me for the rest of my career and life."

Every teacher left the April 28 CCIC Workshop at GISS with lessons that bring today's students into the process of real world problem-solving around an issue that disproportionately affects their lives — global climate change. They also connected their teaching and student learning to world class people and work at Columbia University and NASA GISS.

This was the second CCIC Teacher Workshop held at GISS. Now teachers in Virginia, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, New Mexico, Canada, and the Bahamas are a part of the growing professional learning community for using climate change in the classroom.

"The CCIC is creating a professional development learning space that can potentially transform teaching and learning," said Carolyn Harris, GISS Education Coordinator and founder of the CCIC partner organization Real World Matters. "We are proud to be developing the CCIC initiative with the GISS and Columbia University community and believe it can expand learning opportunities that help prepare young people with the knowledge, skills and experiences they need to be ready for the world, especially around science and technology issues."

For more information about NASA GISS, visit:


Leslie McCarthy, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, N.Y., 212-678-5507,