The NGSS Classroom: Connecting Climate Research with the Clean Energy Industry

How do you explain global warming AND make it relevant for middle school students?

First, connect two Port of San Diego environmentalists with one Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher.

Next, add five enthusiastic middle school science teachers. 

Then, meet for two days to co-develop a brand new Earth Science lesson that will tie together authentic science research with real world applications.

The result? An engaging, research-driven science lesson on the effects of ocean warming that also ignites student interest in clean energy and sustainability efforts and career paths.    

Thanks to a generous gift from Sarah Valdovinos, co-founder of Walden Green Energy, the San Diego Science Project offered its first Lesson Study professional development workshop for teachers that link a science research institution, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), with environmental efforts by the Port of San Diego.

Sarah Valdovinos, co-founder of Walden Green Energy, funded the Clean Energy Lesson Study.

“We are grateful to Sarah Valdovinos for providing the San Diego Science Project with the opportunity to develop a new, Clean Energy science lesson that combines research and relevant information on clean energy industries,” said Kathryn Schulz, director of the San Diego Science Project. “In past lesson studies, we collaborated strictly with scientists to design new lessons. By including an industry partner, we can show how scientific research actually connects to real-world issues in our own backyard, in this case, the 34 miles of waterfront and ecological habitat maintained by the Port of San Diego.”

For the Clean Energy Lesson Study, science teachers from San Diego Unified School District were selected from the San Diego Science Project’s (SDSP) Teaching Fellows cohort. The team included science teachers:

  • Sarah Feiteria, Farb Middle School;
  • Celestina Gallen, Dana Middle School;
  • Sarah Hillard, Millennial Tech Middle School; 
  • Michelle Soporito, Memorial Middle School. 

Rachael Tarshes, a TK-5 Science Enrichment teacher from Euclid Elementary School, served as the team’s master teacher. Tarshes was a supporting teacher for the Office of Naval Research grant (ONR-REAL) awarded in 2015 to UC San Diego’s CREATE (Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence) and SIO. The SDSP’s Clean Energy Lesson Study professional development was patterned after the Lesson Study model in ONR-REAL, a three-year grant connecting 78 San Diego high school science teachers with 22 ONR researchers – from SIO and other local institutions – to create 18 research-based, highly engaging, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 3-Dimensional science lessons for high school students. (See ONR blog posts here.)

Clean Energy Lesson Study Day 1

Dr. Yassir Eddebbar, a postdoctoral scholar in the Integrative Oceanography Division at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, met with the Clean Energy Lesson Study teacher team, Port of San Diego’s Senior Environmental Scientist Zach Birmingham and Renee Yarmy, an energy and sustainability program manager, and Lesson Study funder Sarah Valdovinos. Dr. Eddebbar presented his research on oxygen depletion in the ocean, its connections to global warming, and the human contributions to this phenomena.

The group learned that Oxygen Minimum Zones (OMZ), where oxygen is below breathable levels for sea life, are expanding due to climate change. As ocean waters warm, it holds less gas. Researchers are finding that ocean oxygen loss is now greater due to factors besides ocean warming alone.

Lesson Study Day 2

Port of San Diego’s Birmingham and Yarmy presented an overview of the Port’s environmental responsibilities, including the Green Port Program, which oversees the Green Business Network for businesses located on Port tidelands, the Green Marine Initiative, and the Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below 2006 levels by the year 2020.

After the presentations, the teachers determined what element(s) of research aligned best with The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI’s) for middle school science. The team chose to develop a 5-E science lesson (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) on how and why global warming is affecting oxygen levels in the ocean and how ocean warming, lower oxygen levels, acidification and pollution are killing ocean life and changing the ecosystems around the world. Information on clean energy industries and jobs “closer to home” via the Port of San Diego that address these issues would complement the lesson.

Slide from presentation to Earth Sciences students by the Clean Energy Teaching Team.

“The clean energy component was important for this climate change lesson,” Schulz said. “Students hear about ocean pollution and the need to clean up water, but they don’t get why the oceans are warming and what that means. For students, it’s always been ‘out there’ — hard to relate to and internalize. In this Lesson Study, we took the research, connected it to local industry and it made sense to the kids. Students got the connection between the research and actual environmental careers and jobs, like those at the Port.”

Presenting to Students: The Lesson Study Cycle

As part of the Lesson Study Cycle, teachers met two more times to finalize the lesson. Then the team co-taught the lesson twice in Sarah Hillard’s seventh grade Earth Science class at Millennial Tech Middle School. Master teacher Tarshes took notes on the lesson presentation and debriefed with teachers afterward. Then teachers retaught the lesson with revisions. In the debrief, teachers look at student work as an evidence-based guide to their instruction for the second lesson, noting student response and making changes accordingly.

“Teachers participating in this lesson study were in awe; the material was so new and overwhelming because it was real scientific research,” Schulz said. “Connecting authentic science to the classroom is great for teachers. During the lesson, the team referred often to Dr. Eddebbar and the Port of San Diego environmentalists who helped to build the science lesson. And, the teachers liked that they were learning too. Their enthusiasm showed students that ‘we, as teachers, we’re always learning – we learn just like you,’” she added.

About the San Diego Science Project

The San Diego Science Project (SDSP) is housed in CREATE and is a key partner in the campus-wide, Chancellor-funded CREATE STEM Success Initiative. SDSP provides high-quality professional development services to improve the teaching and learning of science in the greater San Diego County and Imperial County region. SDSP is a regional site of the California Science Project, one of the California Subject Matter Projects.

SDSP provides support to teachers, schools, and districts in understanding and implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) related to science and the technical subjects. Its goal is to improve student understanding of science by improving the teaching of science. The program focuses on improving both teacher learning of science content and pedagogical approaches necessary to effectively teach science to all students.

SDSP encourages teachers to reflect on their instructional practices, focus on student ideas, and collaborate with their peers to improve student learning. SDSP provides teachers with exemplary lessons, new ideas, and the classroom tools necessary to support student literacy in science. In fulfilling its mission, and as part of the CREATE STEM Success Initiative, the SDSP routinely supports UC San Diego and SIO faculty to work closely with schools, school districts, science centers, county offices of education, community colleges, public and private organizations, and science educators to increase the quality of science instruction and student achievement.

For more information on the San Diego Science Project, contact SDSP Director Kathryn Schulz, visit the SDSP website and follow SDSP on Twitter: @UCSDSP.

The NGSS Classroom series features K-12 science and engineering events supported by CREATE and the CREATE Stem Success Initiative at UC San Diego.