LOGO - Livermore Junction Ave K-8.jfif

All children are superstars in their own right.

But one particular group of Livermore's Junction Avenue students is being recognized as such by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and its partners.

The students in Karen Weir-Brown’s sixth-grade science class recently participated in the Climate Superstars Challenge, a 10-day online environmental challenge that gets kids excited about the environment and how they can take an active role in caring for its future. The program is presented by Samsung, Energy Star and NEEF.

During the challenge, middle school classrooms completed short tasks geared toward environmental literacy and energy efficiency. Tasks aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

“The Climate Superstars Challenge is an opportunity to introduce students to the connection between energy use and the environment,” said Weir-Brown, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade STEM electives in addition to sixth-grade science. “It works nicely with the sixth-grade NGSS standards related to Earth’s systems. I originally heard about the contest in 2019 through an (National Science Teaching Association) Reports post on events and opportunities. Since I participated in it last year — and won too — I knew to sign up for it this year. Because it was so on-point for sixth-grade science standards, I encouraged a couple fellow science teachers to consider signing up too.”

According to Weir-Brown, she participated because the resources provided matched the content she was covering; the challenges were perfect for discussion boards for asynchronous lessons and as warm-up discussions for live-session classes.

“The videos, graphs and questions were presented as short tasks for easy use in class,” she said. “They also provided me with opportunities to address science practices like data interpretation and making claims. Also, the tasks worked nicely with the theme I wanted to focus on for this year, which is understanding the impacts wildfires have on living organisms and how human action contributes to the increase in wildfire occurrences.”

Each task engaged the students in a discussion, either during class with peers or asynchronously, and Weir-Brown had more students participate in the discussion board posts for these challenges than she did for most of my other discussion boards at the time.

“They loved the energy vampires video, and our class discussion could have gone on forever on whether they were willing to cut down on their gaming time to cut back on their energy consumption,” she said. “Many students were much more willing to help educate their household members to unplug devices not in use, rather than cut down on their own gaming time! Students were really surprised to see how much energy is used by gaming consoles. I expect this to come up again in the next couple of weeks as they are now looking at solutions to reducing individual contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.”

According to Weir-Brown, it is important for students to understand climate change, because they are already experiencing its damaging effects.

“We started the year with wildfires. We’ve had power outages due to wind events, and we’ve had winter temperatures in the 70s,” she said. “The beginning of the school year started with wildfires, and several of my students were impacted by the fires. It’s important for students to understand the world around them, and hopefully once students see the connections and can make scientific explanations for these events, they will want to be part of the solution. That’s why I love the science standards — students have the opportunity to examine the world around them and ask questions to figure out what’s happening. By beginning with how students are impacted locally, it increases their engagement, and then they are more invested in seeking out changes and solutions.”

Thanks to their win, the class will receive a Samsung Flip 2 digital flipchart — an interactive, touchscreen digital display that allows teams or students to hold and recap meetings or classes — and the accompanying stand, worth about $2,500. While the students really liked the challenges, they didn't even know they were competing in the competition.

“Honestly, I never told them we were doing the lessons for a competition, and when I found out we won, I didn’t share the news, because we haven’t been able to use the prize yet,” said Weir-Brown. “I anticipate that the flipchart will be connected to our school’s WiFi soon, and then I’ll surprise the students with it.”

As she waits for her students to be back in the classroom full time, Weir-Brown urges other teachers, parents and caregivers to get the children in their lives involved in helping their communities.

“To encourage our students to get involved in solving the climate crisis, or any other problem, we need to support (their) natural inquiry, present opportunities for them to critically think through explanations, and encourage creative thinking,” she said. “Start conversations with ‘I wonder if’ and follow up with some action. Solutions do not need to be grandiose — small actions can have a ripple effect, so don’t count anything out. If we can help each other recognize how our actions have an impact, then we can encourage change.”

For more information about NEEF’s Climate Superstars Challenge, visit https://bit.ly/3bvGztF.