Many coastal area educators face the challenge of effectively teaching about climate change impacts such as increases in storm damage, sea level rise, habitat loss, and saltwater intrusion. Teachers in Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, including the counties of Gloucester and Mathews which front Chesapeake Bay, have requested help in identifying the most beneficial data, tools, and resources for informing and educating local students about climate change.
Climate Education for a Changing Bay, a program offered through the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, brings the classroom out into the field while providing teacher professional development. During the pilot year of field experiences, students were divided into one of three groups—emergency response, land planning, and commercial fisheries—with each interpreting a real-world scenario involving the effects of climate change. The students used two Digital Coast tools. With the Sea Level Rise Viewer they assessed how different rates of sea level rise are likely to affect their counties, and with the Coastal County Snapshots tool they looked at how wetlands contribute to their coastal communities. These Digital Coast tools provided a process for the students to reflect upon the human impacts of climate change as a culmination of the entire year’s program.
During its pilot year, Climate Education for a Changing Bay reached approximately 75 students and five teachers with classroom visits, schoolyard field experiences, and a second field experience at the Chesapeake Bay Reserve in Virginia. Teachers are now more aware of age-appropriate materials and ways to use visualizations and data sets with their students. The reserve’s staff members have also incorporated Digital Coast tools into teacher training in a continued effort to empower teachers with the knowledge and confidence to teach about climate change and the specific impacts to Chesapeake Bay.