sign that says 'there is no planet B' - carried by students in a protest march

This week is the start of the Global Climate Strike, and our blog will feature projects about environmental issues.

“Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.” – Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old climate activist and movement leader

The Global Climate Strike is a week of youth-led action dedicated to building the movement for climate justice and ending our global dependency on fossil fuels. The United Nations states: “Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.”

One way to think about the climate crisis is as the project to end all projects—a massive, collaborative, interdisciplinary endeavor with an authentic, incredibly high-stakes outcome: the future of our planet.

This project requires every single person on Earth to deepen our knowledge and build our skills, and demands that we work together in unprecedented ways.

We often talk about Project Based Learning as a pedagogy that equips students for the future. However, our youth are fighting right now to ensure that they have a future. Through movements like Sunrise and the Youth Climate Strikes, young people around the world recognize the urgency of the crisis we’re in, and are leading the charge to transform our economic, social, and political systems in time to save the planet.

So how can we as educators use Project Based Learning to support this movement? How can we help our students adapt to the realities of an already changing climate while also empowering them to stop climate change from getting worse? One way to take action within our own spheres of influence is to design projects that teach core content and skills in the context of authentic climate action.

The following ideas offer entry points to engaging students in climate-related PBL:

Consider your core content. 

Every single content area plays a role in climate adaptation and mitigation. In math class, you might have students analyze energy use and develop an action plan and budget for transitioning your community to renewable energy sources. In an ethnic studies class, your students might read about environmental racism and analyze proposed climate mitigation strategies according to their impacts on frontline communities, or they might study the strategies that indigenous people around the world have been using to fight for climate justice. In P.E./health class, students might research the health and climate impacts of walking and biking vs. driving, or of plant-based diets vs. meat-centric diets, and create social media campaigns to share what they learn.

Tap in to community projects.

Find out what local government officials, farmers, activists, and engineers are doing to address climate change. Many communities are crafting climate resilience or emergency management plans, or working to improve public transportation or energy efficiency programs. How can your students contribute to these efforts? 

Collaborate with colleagues.

The challenges posed by climate change are inherently interdisciplinary, and require us to think across disciplinary boundaries. Work with your colleagues in other content areas to explore these points of intersection and develop collaborative projects. For example, a Biology teacher and an Economics teacher might co-facilitate a project in which students identify food production techniques that are both ecologically and economically sustainable, and an ELA teacher and Social Studies teacher might work with students to craft argumentative editorials about policies related to climate refugees.

Remember that equity and justice are core to any viable climate solution.

Climate change has already had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, low-income communities, and the Global South—and many of these communities have contributed the least to the problem. Ensure that students understand the relationships between climate change and systemic oppression, and that any solutions they craft take into account the voices and needs of frontline communities.

Leverage the PBLWorks project library.

Start with an idea from the library and adapt it to meet the needs of your students and your community. The following projects offer great places to start:

Follow the lead of your students, and make space for their feelings.

It’s likely that many of your students are already concerned about the tenuous future of the planet. Learn about what students are already doing or thinking about related to environmental justice, and use projects to help them see how the content you teach supports their passions. Many of your students may also feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of this immense challenge. Taking these feelings seriously while providing students with concrete opportunities to make a real impact will help students to access their power and contribute to real solutions.

Working with students on projects related to climate change is a powerful way to prepare them for the world beyond school. It’s also one concrete way you can work to ensure they still have one.

Go here to see images from around the world from the first day of the climate strike.