Blog | January 12, 2015, 16:11 PST

These kids will inherit the Earth

By Laura Faye Tenenbaum

The Wonderkids show their enthusiasm for learning about climate change. Credit: Paige Handley

“Climate change! Climate change! Climate change!”

The kids of the Wonderkids after school science program were chanting and pounding the tables as I walked in the room. “Wow,” I thought. “If only more adults were this interested in climate change.”

Paige Handley and Sherry Chan, coordinators of the 32nd street Elementary school University of Southern California (USC) ReadersPlus Program, had just introduced me by asking the group if they remembered what the speaker (me) was going to talk about today. That’s when the chanting and pounding broke out. Obviously they more than remembered—they were bursting, eager, raring to go.

Laura with kids
Laura and the kids doing some hands-on science learning. Credit: Paige Handley
I’d always hesitated to give my climate change speech to kids, worried they’d be ill-mannered or wouldn’t pay attention. I was afraid of not being able to control the room. But I was wrong. These kids were awesome: They were super keen, attentive and totally eager. They gave me hope for the future, for all of our futures.

I spoke for a few minutes, showing them images of NASA’s Earth science satellites and the rockets that launch them into space. I told them the satellites are space robots. (Hey, it’s true. A satellite is a robot in space. Also, I like the idea of a “space robot.”) Then we talked about the data that NASA’s instruments collect. After that, the group performed three Earth science demonstrations together, because science education works best when it’s hands-on.

Kid concentrating
Desiree Godinez concentrates on the demonstration of water's unusually high surface tension. Credit: Paige Handley
I watched as they focused intently on the tasks in front of them: naturally curious and undeterred, like mini professional research scientists. They tenaciously and persistently repeated their experiments without any coaxing from the adults. They cooperated, taking turns and giving each other advice.

I looked over at one of the teacher helpers, smiled and said, “We’re just going to stand here and let them go at it for as long as they want.”

Working in climate science can make me feel down sometimes, because I’m concerned about the impact that we, as a species, are making on our environment. I know much of that impact isn’t going to occur during my lifetime, but will be passed forward to future generations, including this generation in front of me today. But unlike us older people, these elementary school kids will grow up knowing about climate change. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance they’ll be the ones who have the courage, the know-how and the determination to deal with it.

As always, I look forward to your comments.

Laura

Wonderkids, a University of Southern California (USC) Joint Educational Project (JEP) program hosted by ReadersPlus, is a first-to-third grade after-school science program in the USC Family of Schools. It is currently in six schools: Foshay, Weemes, Vermont, Norwood, Mack, Norwood and 32nd street. The program focuses on different areas of science through hands-on lesson plans and books. The program also has professional scientists from different science fields as rotating speakers coming into the classroom to encourage students to pursue careers in STEM.


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