Alva Roy Hanson Jr.
Education has been divided among different disciplines for years, but true learning takes place when students recognize the relevance of learning across disciplines. My colleague, Patricia Sorrentino, an English teacher, and I co-teach a science and English course called “Science through Literature.” Within this course, we cover science topics with a high concentration on non-fiction literature. Having both of us in the class, with different skills and abilities, helps the students learn the information on a deeper and more relevant level.
We teach under-credited and overage students at New Horizons School for Higher Achievement in New Haven, Connecticut. Our students have been placed in our alternative high school for reasons of truancy, criminal records (court-ordered students), childcare issues, and serious behavior issues. Most of them live in poverty-ridden neighborhoods and find school to be their only "safe-haven," but fall way below their reading/writing grade levels, so schoolwork is difficult and frustrating. My job is to teach the New Haven science curriculum at an appropriate level, so none of my students feel over- or under-challenged, which is quite difficult when I have a class of fifteen students and reading/writing levels vary from "grade 2" through "post-high school." Another huge challenge is their truancy issues. In my class of fifteen I may only see the same three students every other day, so the units and lessons I plan cannot span over a couple days because I will only be forced to play "catch-up" each day with the students who walk into the classroom after three days of being absent.
Our co-taught class has focused on topics of disease and viruses, astronomy, genetics; and now, we want to focus on climate change. Climate change, however, is a huge topic, which our students find boring and irrelevant. What we hope to accomplish is an awareness of how climate change affects each of our students and what they can do to help make changes. With the upcoming election, we want to help our students become scientifically- and politically-literate when it comes to the issue of climate change.
In order to do this successfully, we will first focus on the foundational information they need to understand the issue and how it started. Once the foundation has been built, we will focus on political debates and news articles. Our students will conclude the unit with a debate of their own—defending or arguing climate change.
In order to do this successfully, we will first focus on the foundational information they need to understand the issue and how it started. Once the foundation has been built, we will focus on political debates and news articles. In addition, we will utilize our school’s garden, the Long Island Sound, and other nearby amenities to conduct experiments and hands-on learning. Our students will conclude the unit with a debate of their own—defending or arguing against the notion of climate change.
Thomas Hager’s The Alchemy of Air will be the first text we examine. We will not read the entire book, but will take sections of it to explore the history of climate change. This book travels through the beginning of the twentieth century when humanity was facing a global disaster. The fast-growing population was facing a mass starvation fear. Two of the world’s most brilliant scientists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, were called in hopes of finding a solution. These two scientists developed, what is now known as the Haber-Bosch process. Their invention still feeds us today, but at a significant price. The Haber-Bosch process was also used to make gunpowder and high explosives, which killed millions during the two world wars. As a result of their invention, today we face massive nitrogen pollution. To follow this text, we will focus on James Hansen’s TED Talk “Why I must speak out about climate change,” Scientific American’s “Behind the Hockey Stick,” “The Nitrogen Cycle,” and “What Do Farmers Think about Climate Change?”