Climate change is real and human activity is driving it. That is the science, and teachers and administrators say it’s being taught that way in Baltimore County schools.
But there are climate change skeptics.
In this way, climate change is like evolution. The teaching of the scientific theory runs afoul of some people’s beliefs.
Luis Cervantes and Mason Ciarpella are students at Sparrows Point High School, which has a magnet program in environmental studies. Both plan to be science majors in college and believe the evidence that human activity is causing climate change.
But both have had classmates who thought otherwise. Mason remembers one student in particular who didn’t believe it.
“He didn’t really think that what I was saying is true,” Mason said. “He thought it was a bunch of hocus-pocus in a way.”
Luis said, “The question really shouldn’t be ‘is climate change happening?’ It’s how much are humans impacting the environment?”
Sparrows Point High School science teacher Jennifer Bodis said when she teaches climate change, she lays out what scientists know from multiple sources, as well as how they gather their evidence. If students question that, she steers them back to the science. Bodis said climate change offers students the opportunity to look at data in a critical way.
“And start to really think ok, well what does this mean?” Bodis said. “Where is their bias? What does all of this data tell us? And to start thinking for themselves.”
Tiffany Wendland, a coordinator for science education in Baltimore County, said teachers are not going to get involved in politics or religion.
“Because we can stick to the science,” Wendland said.
Climate change did not become a part of the county’s curriculum until two years ago, even though the science has been known for decades. In 2017, Baltimore County brought its curriculum in line with science standards adopted by the state. Those standards include teaching climate change to middle and high schoolers.
“Based on the data, we should have jumped on this much sooner,” said Christine Schumacker, the Director of Science for the Baltimore County Schools.
Shumacker said before 2017, some students studied climate change in an elective earth science course. Now it’s part of every student’s curriculum.
Bodis said as a science teacher, she agrees the county was late in doing that, but on the other hand she said because of the naysayers it was good to wait.
“I think we really needed to make sure we have that scientific evidence to support why are we teaching this in our schools now,” Bodis said.
Catherine Shoup, director of communications for the Maryland State Department of Education, said local school systems across Maryland are now required to teach climate change. She added they don’t have the data to know for sure that’s happening.
One of the cool things about science class is hands on experiments. Julie Damico, a supervisor in the Baltimore County Public Schools science department, said they can show students the connection between carbon dioxide and rising temperatures.
“You can actually put a CO2 sensor and a temperature sensor in an Erlenmeyer flask,” Damico said. “And as you put more carbon dioxide in, you can keep track of the temperature as you shine light on it.”
Damico said students also have unplugged devices in classrooms, then tried to quantify how that changes the amount of kilowatts used.
And while climate change is not being taught in county elementary schools, the students are learning the basics about weather. Later on they’ll learn how humans are affecting that.