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Bree Reynolds and Anne Kern in lab

Bree Reynolds | Being the Change

UI student helps devise 21st century climate change curriculum


The vast majority of the world’s scientific community agree that climate change is anthropogenic, or man-made, caused by gases that include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that these greenhouse gases have been spiking upward since the dawn of the industrial era, and are now at the highest levels in more than 650,000 years.

The challenges of climate change are immediate, long term and politically charged. Wellpinit High School science teacher and University of Idaho graduate student Bree Reynolds embraces those challenges and clearly relishes the notion of her students meeting them head on, fully armed with knowledge.

“This work is important because my students will ultimately be left with the mess created by past generations,” Reynolds said. “I believe that the current level of misinformation regarding climate change is only possible because people are not equipped with all of the information, or what they know is incomplete or inaccurate. In addition, I believe that youth are poised with limitless energy and passion for issues they find important.”

Reynolds is working on the NASA funded project, “Collaborative Development of a Climate Change Curriculum for Classrooms in the Intermountain West.” Reynolds works with University of Idaho science education professor Anne Kern, her major professor and partner on the grant project. Their collaborators also include k-12 educators, students and the public, including Native peoples of the region. Working together, the goal is to design science curriculum focused on the impacts of climate change.

“There are two main goals,” Reynolds said. “First, that students learn accurate climate science, including how climate works and the dynamics of change — all based on peer-reviewed research. But it’s not enough to just know about it: We also are looking at a mitigation piece, studying how to reduce impacts or diminish emissions.”

The curriculum will include explanation of how climate models are working and instruction on how to weigh the validity of studies on climate and climate change. Among the questions students will address: “If it is peer reviewed, who reviews it? And where do they get their money?” Reynolds said.

“Many of the scientists claiming climate change is not human caused are working for think tanks funded by oil companies,” Reynolds said. “That’s a little suspect, in my book.”

Reynolds teaches science full time at Wellpinit High School while pursuing a doctorate in education. A woman of considerable personal and intellectual energy, she also is working on a directed study under University of Idaho professor Steven Mulkey, focusing on climate science and climate change.

The curriculum that Reynolds, Kern and their collaborators are developing under the NASA grant also includes teacher training.

“Scientists will teach the science and will be available for teachers to ask in-depth questions,” Reynolds said. “Teachers will work with scientists to develop inquiry projects and labs to illustrate concepts to students. It is a place-based curriculum, where students learn about climate on Earth, but will do so by looking at specific issues in their home communities.”

Reynolds is particularly excited to incorporate place-based research as part of the climate change curriculum. Wellpinit High School is on the Spokane Indian Reservation. She foresees a curriculum component there that allows students to look at climate change as it impacts the tribe’s cultural practices, including impacts on fisheries, traditional root digs, forest health and wildlife habitat — all central to retaining tribal traditions and way of life.

Reynolds envisions a curriculum that challenges students to weigh the validity of scientific arguments, helps them frame scientific and social issues globally and empowers them to address climate change impacts locally.

In a letter to students on the Wellpinit High website, she throws down the challenge as originally issued by Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Reynolds and her collaborators envision a curriculum that allows students to rise to that challenge.

*Photo by Jerome A. Pollos, Coeur d'Alene Press