Keystone Center pioneers climate change education |

Keystone Center pioneers climate change education

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk Local science teacher Brenda Thompson-Leffler, center in gray, gets help from Greg Sloan, Keleen Wrighten, Liz David Sarah Forbes and Tore Chiaravalloti Saturday afternoon at the Keystone Center while conducting a carbon dioxide and mass experiment during the Global Climate Change seminar hosted by the Keystone Center and funded by the Department of Energy and Vail Resorts.

KEYSTONE – An issue as complex and far-reaching as climate change may seem overwhelming to the average global citizen. But the Keystone Center, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, Vail Resorts and a national team of 18 middle school teachers, is determined to break down the topic into terms manageable for America’s youngest minds.Around the world, glaciers are disappearing, coastlines are flooding and permafrost is thawing. Power plants and choked freeways are belching heat-trapping carbon dioxide.Climatologists gather and use extensive data from some of the world’s most remote locations to predict how fast human activity will heat up the earth’s atmosphere, while politicians and industry leaders debate what action, if any, they should take.”Climate change is a very important environmental issue,” said Sarah Forbes, policy analyst with the Department of Energy. “It’s something that isn’t going to be solved today, so communicating different options for solving climate change to kids needs to start now.”

The Keystone Center has developed a hands-on, interdisciplinary curriculum on global climate change that includes role-playing, team problem-solving and lab experiments for middle school students. A top-flight, national team of middle school teachers gathered at the center last weekend to receive training on the curriculum in preparation to pilot it in their own classrooms this year.The middle school teachers, including two from Summit Middle School, played the role of student while The Keystone Center staff guided them through experiments comparing the mass of carbon dioxide and oxygen and political simulations in which global leaders traded carbon credits.In one exercise, the teachers dressed up in costume to role-play stakeholders – a scientist, an economist, a farmer, an environmentalist – in a climate policy debate.”The stakeholders are presenting their hypotheses and interests so kids can see that people come from many different perspectives,” said Rachel Pokrandt of The Keystone Center.During the “Eating Up Energy” lesson, student groups, each representing a different country, received allocations of miniature chocolate bars in proportion to the carbon dioxide their nations emit. Each group taped the wrappers, representing emissions, onto a “Global Air Space” poster.

Groups with high emissions invaded other groups’ air space, demonstrating the international climate impacts that highly industrialized countries have on the rest of the world.”The big piece we saw was the impact the U.S. has on the whole world,” said Summit Middle School science teacher Kay Kirkland. “We can make kids aware that what we do affects everyone in the world. That was really big for us – to get our kids conscious of how they use energy.”Kirkland and fellow SMS teacher Brenda Thompson-Leffler will introduce the climate change unit to their sixth-grade students during the next few months.The lesson’s interdisciplinary, inquiry-based format, along with their international focus, dovetail especially well with the middle school’s recent transition to a full-school International Baccalaureate program.

Teachers who participated in the training will provide feedback to The Keystone Center after they test-drive it in their classrooms. Once fine-tuned, the center will work with the Department of Energy to disseminate the curriculum nationally.”For me, it’s been really gratifying,” said Brooke Carson, The Keystone Center’s director of teacher training. “We met with global climate change experts who said climate change is way too big an issue for middle school students to understand.”But through this curriculum and all its activities, the students are asking questions and finding their own answers.”Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at

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