New UC San Diego CREATE Initiative to Strengthen K-12 Climate Education

“Creating Climate Champions” will leverage campus resources to support K-12 climate learning

The Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) at UC San Diego has launched a one-year pilot program to advance climate education in San Diego County K-12 schools. 

Creating Climate Champions at UC San Diego CREATE is a collaborative effort among campus and community partners to address the growing need for K-12 (kindergarten through high school) climate change teaching and learning in schools. Solving the climate crisis requires creating climate champions of all ages — people who are educated on climate science, passionate about addressing the climate crisis, and engaged in concrete efforts to “bend the curve” of global warming via all sectors of our society. 

The pilot project, funded by a grant from the Social Sciences Division at UC San Diego, seeks to increase K-12 climate literacy, impact public discourse on climate crisis issues, and stimulate community engagement and conservation action. Creating Climate Champions is a collaboration among CREATE, Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the UC San Diego Community Station EarthLab, Social Sciences Division and the San Diego County Office of Education. Dr. Nan Renner, research associate at CREATE, senior director of Learning Design and Innovation for Birch Aquarium at Scripps, and steering committee member for the UC-CSU Environmental and Climate Change Literacy Project and Summit (ECCLPS), is the project leader.

“We are deeply grateful to Dean Carol Padden and Ben Bergen, research initiatives director of the Social Sciences Division, for their support of this project,” Renner said. “Creating Climate Champions responds to the urgent need for K-12 education in a critical decade for climate action. Creating Climate Champions will leverage UC San Diego’s commitment to research, education, and community service to integrate learning about climate in local schools and neighborhoods. We all need to understand both the climate crisis and climate solutions.”

Creating Climate Champions partners at CREATE have reviewed results from a survey of K-12 San Diego educators to assess their needs and challenges in teaching climate in their schools. Initiative next steps include the selection of 10 “Climate Champion” teacher leaders from throughout San Diego County. With guidance from CREATE and Birch Aquarium staff, teachers will collaborate to curate, adapt, create, and test K-12 climate curriculum. A series of climate education learning events will be offered throughout the year, and a professional learning community of climate educators will connect UC San Diego with schools and community organizations. A culmination of these efforts will be showcased at a virtual Regional Climate Education Summit, sponsored by the Social Sciences Division, in April 2021.  

A 2019 NPR/Ipsos survey found a significant percent of California parents with K-12 children (84 %) and the majority of California K-12 teachers (86%) believe climate change should be taught in school. Yet many teachers (55%) say they do not teach or discuss climate change with their students, Renner noted. 

“There’s a lot of climate curriculum out there, but the key is what actually happens in classrooms and communities,” Renner said. “We aim to address the needs of teachers and students by adapting existing climate education resources and filling gaps with help from UC San Diego researchers. With a local focus, we will make the global climate crisis relevant to local communities. We will build on this pilot project to expand the network of climate champion teachers and students, adding to the growing movement to address the existential threat posed by the climate crisis. Collective action and human creativity fuel our hope.”

For more information on the Creating Climate Champions Initiative, contact Nan Renner ( 

About UC San Diego CREATE 

The Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE) at UC San Diego is an innovative education research center that supports and promotes diversity, excellence, and equity in education. CREATE actively links UC San Diego to the local K-20 community through college preparation and success programs, research and program evaluation, school improvement efforts, and educator professional learning. 

About the Birch Aquarium at Scripps 

At Birch Aquarium, we connect understanding to protecting our ocean planet. We achieve this mission through hands-on learning opportunities for nearly 500,000 guests as well as more than 50,000 pre-K-12 students each year. Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for Scripps Oceanography. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Birch Aquarium features the groundbreaking work of Scripps Oceanography and UC San Diego scientists as well as conservation breeding programs and interactive exhibits.

Related Links:

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Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography: 
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