Thursday, December 1, 2011

Seeing is believing… we are cramming to capacity.

Once again the seasons appear to have changed overnight! A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving Day, I was in Colorado where we’d already had 3 snows (8-9 inch accumulations each) and bitterly freezing temperatures. Just 12 hours later, when I arrived home in north central Texas, it was 80 degrees outside and spring green had replaced the chaff of an historically hot summer. According to the LCRA, “The 12 months from October 2010 through September 2011 were the driest for that 12-month period in Texas since 1895, when the state began keeping rainfall records.” My hometown is now enforcing Stage 3 Water Conservation Measures as the winter forecast does not hold much promise for relief. But the temperature has dropped and the leaves have changed to signal Fall, finally!

On a grander scale, climate changes naturally over a long period of time. This gradual progression usually allows plants and animals to balance the carrying capacity of their environment. Whether or not you ‘believe’ in global warming, the impact of human activity is causing rapid changes in our shared environment. Adults have actually seen the changes manifest: we know that the current local weather patterns are different from what seemed relatively predictable when we were kids; we see the impact of that on flora and fauna, not to mention the domino effects of continued habitat destruction. Today’s students, however, often have difficulty connecting our need for the same resources as other organisms with the amount of life the planet can support. Many times they also fail to associate changes in climate with the earth’s ability to sustain life. That’s why the No More Room activity is designed to provide a tangible representation of carrying capacity from the bottom of a food web up!

Instructor Notes: This activity can be used as a summative assessment to see if students really grasp the fact that climate change is a problem that is affecting people and the environment – and that they can take action to make a difference right now. There’s a lot of great information in A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change on the EPA website, which is available in the Learn the Issues section on Climate Change. In addition to a virtual field trip around the world to explore the effects of climate change, students can calculate their impact on the environment and learn about specific ways to help solve this global challenge. Please share your ideas for incorporating the interactive Global Warming Effects Map too!

Somewhat related to this topic, I am a visual learner, always have been and hopefully always will be. I suppose that’s part of the reason I so love to ‘watch’ the seasons change. Regardless of my preference, experts say that over 80 percent of what a child learns in school is presented visually. And sadly, up to 25 percent of schoolchildren may have vision problems that can affect their ability to learn. The good news is that many of those roadblocks can be reduced if not eliminated with rehabilitation or therapy! The COVD website is a great starting point for finding out more about vision development and vision therapy – and vision and learning. Please review their Symptoms Checklist of common signs and symptoms of conditions to look for that may indicate a vision problem. They can occur at any age and typical eye exams and school screenings do not check for these critical functions, unfortunately.

As we continue to leverage new tools and technologies to track global climate change and to assess neuro-sensory diagnostics, teachers have exciting opportunities to incorporate new techniques and strategies for more meaningful learning for an increasingly diverse audience. For example, Environmental Science is a wonderful topic for exploring ways to use infographics as creative assessments. As explained on Wikipedia, “information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics present complex information quickly and clearly”. When checking the forecast for my recent drive from CO to TX, I was naturally and immediately drawn to the GraphiCast (graphical short term forecast) produced by the National Weather Service.

In Teaching with Infographics, the New York Times acknowledges that it’s becoming increasingly important for students to be able to read and interpret visual representations of information. I started my explorations with 10 Awesome Free Tools to Make Infographics and The Anatomy of an Infographic: 5 Steps to Create a Powerful Visual. What changes in teaching and learning are you noticing? What ideas could you develop to inspire your students to share facts and figures about their place in the changing environment?