February 8, 2016
By: Media

Heating Up Education on Climate Science


Four Education Minnesota members traveled to Paris to take part in the world’s biggest summit on climate change. Now back in their classrooms, they are energized to share what they learned with their students. They are also back with a message to other educators in the state to get educated on climate change and get the message in front of all Minnesota students.

COP group1

“Right now in Minnesota, we need a big push for climate education,” said Billy Koenig, a high school biology teacher from Shakopee. “We need a larger voice.”

“I come back knowing much more about the urgency with which action is needed and the extraordinarily important time we live in,” said Peter Johnson, a middle school earth science and STEM teacher from Pine Island.

One of the biggest changes these educators hope to make is to get climate education included in the state’s science standards.

“Currently in the high school standards, climate education gets a little bit left out,” said Koenig. “A lot of teachers hope they will push for inclusion.

“The standards are up for review in 2018. I hope there is a message that we can get out. I want science teachers to feel free to teach this without stepping on anybody’s toes. My science department is already working to implement this, but we need to get a little bit of a movement going. If we’re ever going to solve this, we need to educate students.”

Koenig also hopes to lead discussions in his school district on how to live more sustainably, including putting solar panels on a new high school addition being built in a few years.

Thanks to Minnesota organization Climate Generation, 10 educators from across the country joined 40,000 individuals from around the world in observing the negotiations at the 21st United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP21).

More than 190 countries attended the conference, which ended with an agreement aiming to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. The educators in attendance came away with so much more.

“This is about teaching students how important climate change is, how international action both works and is needed to address the issue and how advocacy for important issues can look,” said Johnson.

Climate Generation chose to help educators attend the worldwide conference because they could be ambassadors for their students.

“These teachers were chosen because the general theme on their applications was not I’m so excited to go to Paris, but that I recognize this moment is pivotal and know my students are the ones who will inherit this, so I want to bring this back to them,” said Kristen Poppleton, director of education at Climate Generation.

While in Paris, Climate Generation setup roundtables for the educators each morning. They talked with the vice president of Best Buy about what the company is doing to prevent global warming and the president of the McKnight Foundation. They also met with current and former Minnesota state legislators Melissa Hortman, Ellen Anderson and Kate Knuth to talk about policies being made at the state level.

The educators not only had meetings with state and national leaders, but also blogged and did video conferences and webinars with their students while in Paris.

“It was powerful because the kids were able to see me in Paris and find out what was happening in real time,” said Dr. Kristy Otte, an instructional peer coach and ESL teacher in the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan district. “And now that I’m back, I have lessons planned to do follow-up with all of those kids that I talked with prior to going and while in Paris.”

“I just tried to absorb as much information as possible for 12 hours a day,” said Koenig. “We were getting to hear from some of the best scientists from all over the world, talking to some of the best human rights activists from all over the world. The trip went from awesome to life-changing as the conference got started. And now I’m bringing that back to my students.”

The fourth Education Minnesota member on the trip was K. Nicole Anderson, a French teacher at Ramsey Middle School in St. Paul and at the Concordia Language Villages.

One of the highlights for all of the Climate Generation Education Ambassadors was their meeting with Dr. John Holdren, assistant to the president for science and technology. He is director in the White House Office of Science and Technology Pol icy and co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Each education ambassador had a minute to speak with Holdren at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.


“I was representing my 350 students in my one short minute statement,” said Otte. “One of the big issues my students brought up was that they don’t feel like anyone cares about climate change and are wondering why it feels like no one is doing anything about it. Dr. Holdren said that you can tell your students that President Obama does care and is doing something about it.”

Johnson said that the impact of his attendance at this conference will hopefully be felt by current and future students.

“I have been able to represent my students by presenting their words to President Obama’s science adviser. I was able to report to them firsthand and webcast from the area where the big decisions were being made. Future students will benefit from the numerous connections I have made with individuals around the world.”

“We just need to be always working on the education piece to help people understand it’s not a political issue and we need to be taking a part in finding solutions and ways we can adapt,” said Otte. She plans to make environmental education a part of her day-to-day lessons going forward.

All of the educators also plan to stay connected with Climate Generation, which has multiple lessons, workshops and online resources for educators on the topics of climate change and energy. Go to for more information.


Here are links to the teachers’ blogs and videos they did, as well as information on their trip to the U.N. conference.

Peter Johnson

• Blogs: • Video:

Billy Koenig

• Blogs: • Video:

K. Nicole Anderson

• Blogs: • Video:

Kristy Otte

• Blogs: • Video:

Trip information • Video highlighting the trip:

Read the full article online here.