With the world all abuzz about the recent release of the fifth edition of the IPCC report, many teachers are no doubt wondering how to take advantage of this teachable moment. Should they address the report in social studies?  In an environmental sciences course? How can they address the report without overwhelming or terrifying students? Most importantly though, how can they fit it into an already full curriculum?

In our experience at NCSE, it is not about fitting climate change into an already full semester; it is about understanding where climate change already fits. Though every state has different science standards, most cover the same topics–though in differing detail and often in different years. As a result, I’ll share some suggestions that can apply to many different states, allowing teachers to address the IPCC’s user-friendly Summary for Policy Makers report while still covering the standards required by their state.

Earth Science Teachers

If your state has  standards regarding climate.

Climate is typically addressed in middle or high school earth science courses. An easy place to start is Figure 1 in the report, which addresses land and ocean surface temperatures over the last century. This is a great opportunity to talk about how ocean, land, and atmospheric temperatures differ and why some parts of the world are warming at a faster rate than others. Figures 7a and 8a show projections into the future for surface temperature change, which could be used for a discussion of climate models. You could also use Figure 5 to discuss how different atmospheric gases and aerosols impact climate, as well as the often conceptually challenging concept of “radiative forcing”.