A set of forthcoming papers by the Center for Sustainable Futures uncovers American attitudes toward climate change and education. The initial findings, which use data from a 2023 survey conducted by the Center and The Public Matters at TC offer a broader perspective on how Americans view the role of education in climate mitigation and adaptation.

Research led by TC student Sarah Lewis reveals that the majority of Americans want to know about responses to climate change. However, the research team identified several trends among different demographics. For example, the findings highlight a stark divide in attitudes and concerns when it comes to people who have accepted climate change and those who have not. In outlining the differences between the groups, researchers can then explore effective strategies for climate communicators to reach wider audiences. 

“Public opinion studies serve as a ‘window’ to the ways members of society think about climate change and education,” explains Oren Pizmony-Levy, Director of the Center for Sustainable Futures, Associate Professor of International and Comparative Education, and the research's principal investigator. “These studies could also inform public discussion, policy, and practice. Teachers attending our Summer Institute and other workshops feel relieved to learn that the public support climate change education.” 

The Findings

The forthcoming research coincides with new revelations related to teacher preparation on sustainability and climate education, when approximately 40 educators returned to Teachers College this month to discuss how they’ve integrated professional development from last year’s Summer Climate Education Institute into their schools and classrooms. 

Lessons covered topics such as food equity, sustainable building methods, environmental racism and the role of greenhouse gasses. The product of nearly 10 months of collaborative effort, presentations showcased the breadth of work created during the institute and exemplified the variety of ways climate change can be taught to elementary school students.

Presentations also demonstrated how a learning community of teachers facilitates the creation of more innovative methods. During the course of one project — a mini-unit that introduced climate change concepts to kindergarten students through observation and classroom activities — educators found a need to explore solutions to climate issues like extreme heat and did so by incorporating a lesson on the importance of shade designed by other Summer Institute participants. The unit culminated with students building their “dream playgrounds,” designed to withstand heat and flooding.

Sustaining their growing community of climate educators is a priority for the Center for Sustainable Futures. As such, alumni of the summer institute will have long-term support through mentorship programs, continuing professional development and community building opportunities

“It is exciting to learn with and from the teachers on ways to integrate climate education across different subjects in elementary school,” says Pizmony-Levy. “We are looking forward to working with teachers on publishing their lesson plans and materials on platforms such as Subject to Climate. This will help expand the impact of our work to other teachers in NYC and worldwide.”