Local Teachers Learn How to Tackle Climate Change

Today’s post comes from Andrew Major, Communications Intern at the Trust. The Earth Science Teacher Workshop was made possible by donors to the Trust in 2017. Click here to learn more about the Trust’s programs.

Climate change is a serious and growing issue facing our global community, but its tangible effects can be felt right here in in our backyard. In recent years Shenandoah National Park has seen milder winters with very few days below freezing, and warmer water temperatures in its streams. The warmer temperatures affect several endangered species in the area including brook trout and the Shenandoah salamander. There have also been many years where the arrival of seasonal weather patterns has been off schedule. This shift in the seasonal timing can cause plants to bloom early then die, or animals to migrate at the wrong time. These are just a few close-to-home examples of the effects of climate change.

In 2017, donors to the Shenandoah National Park Trust helped fund a teacher workshop called Exploring Earth Science in Shenandoah National Park. The project, led by Tim Taglauer, Deputy Chief of Interpretation, called for the creation of new curriculum to explore the effects of climate change within the park, paying special attention to the endangered Shenandoah salamander.

The park’s Young Leaders in Climate Change (YLCC) intern Katie Halpin worked alongside local teacher Cassie Weathersbee to create a comprehensive curriculum that includes classroom materials, physical and online resources, and a field trip to the park itself. They developed lesson plans for teachers to use in the classroom before and after their field trip, explaining the background information on climate change including its causes and effects. Following classroom discussions, teachers can utilize areas within the park to reinforce these ideas with outdoor activities for their students.

“By using this local example to communicate the potential negative impacts of climate change, local area teachers can teach their students about climate change and the importance of reducing their own carbon footprints” Halpin says.

Climate change can often seem like a distant problem in the Shenandoah Valley, but it is important to ensure that our local children know how it affects their homes, attaching a personal stake to a global problem. Cassie Weathersbee agreeds saying, “the more students we can get to visit the park through these educational experiences the more they will value the importance of preserving the national parks and protecting their local habitats, as well as the larger global environment.” These lessons are an incredibly helpful way for teachers to be able to communicate the gravity of the situation and get kids involved in finding solutions.

In August, a group of 25 teachers from several local high schools visited Shenandoah National Park to attend the Earth Science Teacher Workshop and get a hands-on introduction to the new curriculum. They participated in an activity about the endangered Shenandoah salamander where they discussed the background of this unique amphibian who is only found in Shenandoah, and how it is being affected by climate change and habitat loss. After the classroom activities, they went on a ranger-led hike to gather red-backed salamanders in a stream to measure their population, taking measurements of soil temperature and elevation. The data they gathered was recorded and used by the Park Service to monitor the conditions in the park and its salamander populations.

One of the teachers, Michelle Barber who teaches 11th and 12th grade at Skyline High School, has done this activity with students before said that “kids really love the salamander activity, getting to handle them in the streams. And since the data they gather actually gets used, they feel like they are helping the park.” Barber also commented on how the park makes the lessons easily transferable to the classroom. The classroom activities allow the teachers to prepare the students for the field trip and follow up on what they learned, ensuring that the students fun with the salamanders remained productive.

On the second day of the workshop, the teachers toured the Lewis Mountain Water Treatment Plant and hiked to the spring where the water from the plant joins Hawksbill Creek to see how the water is affected by measuring mineral components at each site. Janel Pidgeon who teaches 9th and 12th grade at Woodgrove High School thought that this was a particularly interesting lesson for local students who could connect the watershed with their local water supply and their communities in Luray. While Mrs. Pidgeon had never done either of these activities before, she said she is looking forward to using the lessons in her classroom and that she “really appreciates all the work that goes into developing these earth science lessons, they are very thorough and well done, we got electronic resources, physical resources and everything we needed to make it a great experience.”

You can access the full Exploring Earth Science curriculum on the Shenandoah National Park website.

The Shenandoah National Park Trust would like to thank the teachers for participating in the activity, Project Manager Tim Taglauer, Cassie Weathersbee (the park’s 2017 Teacher-Ranger-Teacher) and the YLCC intern Katie Halpin for leading the hike and the classroom activities, as well as creating the curriculum.  Most importantly we would like to thank our donors for making these kinds of activities possible for training the teachers and eventually hosting students!

Michelle Barber has already scheduled her class to visit the park in October and April, while Cassie Weathersbee is planning on bringing her Earth Science students to the park on three different occasions.

Click here to see more pictures from the workshop.


Photo credits: National Park Service