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Teaching the Implications of Climate Change and Hurricane Harvey

My colleague, Anne Hilton, Assistant Director, Marketing and Communications, is from South Texas, where Harvey continues to do damage. She compiled a brief list of resources and ideas to help educators address this national crisis in their classrooms. If you have additional resources, feel free to add them in the comment section below.

By guest blogger Anne Hilton

Hurricane Harvey is a natural disaster of monstrous proportions. You've likely seen the visualizations of the 9 trillion tons of rain that has fallen over South Texas, and the photos of covered highways and houses across Houston. Rockport, the small coastal town that Harvey hit first, has tremendous damage that will take months to repair, if not years. 

The effects of Harvey are widespread and the rain hasn't stopped in Houston. Many of us around the nation and, indeed, the world, have been trying to find ways to help out from afar, and educators now have the burden—and opportunity—to use Harvey as a lens through which to teach their students to investigate the world and take action. Here are some ideas and resources to help you get started.

How Hurricanes Work

First of all, don't forget the basics. Investigate how hurricanes form, gain strength, and weaken. The National Education Association has a compilation of great resources, as do NOAA, NASA, and the New York Times.

Download blank hurricane tracking sheets from the National Hurricane Center, and have your students track hurricanes and typhoons as they form and move across the Atlantic and Pacific. How do patterns differ for these storms around the world?

How Different Regions Respond to Hurricanes and Natural Disasters

After exploring how hurricanes work, ask your students to consider questions similar to the following and pose their own answers based on research and discussions:

  • Is there a one-size-fits-all response to hurricanes and typhoons?
  • Why do some cities and regions demand evacuation, while others don't?
  • How does the media around the world treat natural disasters? For example, there was a lot of coverage of Hurricane Harvey in both U.S. and international media, but much less coverage of Typhoon Hato, which wreaked havoc across Macau last week.

This is also a good opportunity to work with students to help them recognize and weigh perspectives. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner refused to issue a mandatory evacuation order for the city—what were his reasons for doing so? Did he make the right choice? Why or why not?

How Climate Change is Affecting Our Weather

One of the reasons Hurricane Harvey was so disastrous was due to climate change. The Gulf of Mexico's water temperature was at record highs this summer—so hot, in fact (4 degrees above normal), that Harvey grew in strength as it neared land, which is incredibly rare.

But in addition to that, Houston's design means that it floods easily and often‐and will only continue to do so as the effects of climate change increase. Houston fights the floods with bayous and levees. Unlike Houston, though, the Netherlands is trying to work within—rather than against—the constraints of climate change.

Ask your students to explore how other countries are working to combat—or work with—climate change, especially the countries with the most land below sea level. What policies and practices are countries adopting to combat climate change? Which countries are focusing specifically on our "new normal"—the extremes in weather? And what are those countries doing to face these extremes?

You can also ask students to explore how climate change disproportionately affects the poor. How do these disparities manifest between countries and within countries? While climate change affects everyone, who suffers the most? Use Houston as a case study.

Take Action

Houston Resident Rescued by National Guard.jpegMost importantly, students will want to help. Find ways to work together with your students to take action. Read FEMA's guide on how to volunteer and donate responsibly after a natural disaster and come up with a project together. Reach out to local nonprofit organizations—even if you're not near Houston or South Texas—to see if there are ways you can help.

It's easy to feel helpless in the face of such a terrible natural disaster. But learning about the world and then seeking ways to take action is one small way to mitigate its effects. Even while Harvey is causing severe destruction across South Texas,  we're seeing moments of hope and inspiration. Help your students take part in that while also learning about hurricanes, climate change, and the world. 

Connect with the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Defense, Army National Guard Photo by Lt. Zachary West.

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