CReSIS in the Classroom: Q&A with Teri Fulton


By Ashley Thompson
Winter 2010

Teri Fulton and her fourth-grade students at Whittier Elementary School in Kansas City, KS began partnering with CReSIS Education Outreach Coordinator Cheri Hamilton for the 2009 school year. Here, she discusses the complexities of teaching climate change science in the classroom, the annual teachers’ workshop, and her favorite “light bulb” moments.

Teri Fulton

1. What did you gain from participating in the Climate Change workshop?
The Climate Change workshop was one of the most informative workshops that I have ever attended. We took a pretest, prior to the start of the workshop, and I felt that I should drop out before it even began because I had absolutely no prior knowledge about the subject and I guessed at most of the answers to the quiz. When I suggested that this might be over my head and perhaps I should take an easier course, I was encouraged to stick with it. After all, the reason I signed up was that I was woefully lacking in content knowledge in this area of Science. One of the most important things that I took from the workshop was that the information presented was not meant to alarm the students. It challenged us as educators to literally go forth and teach so that the solutions our world so desperately needs for the future can begin with today’s students. It’s exciting to hypothesize that there is a student sitting in today’s fourth grade who might possibly dedicate his or her life’s work to finding solutions to our world’s climate change crisis. Information is a powerful thing and it’s important to make it available to all students.

2. What do your students enjoy the most about their time in the classroom with Cheri?
The moment “Ice, Ice, Baby,” as the students fondly refer to Cheri Hamilton, arrives in the classroom, there is a palpable feeling of excitement. For the hour that she comes monthly, she has the complete attention of every student in the room. What’s not to like about miniature lab coats, science notebooks keyed with animal stickers, kettles full of boiling water, bags full of ice, hands-on activities and specific learning outcomes clearly presented in a scientific format? There has not been a lesson presented that my students haven’t responded to. My most uninvolved students come to life when CReSIS lessons are presented.

3. Is there a favorite activity?
After a quick class vote - very heated I may add - the group decided that their favorite experiment so far was “Cold Water Motion” which showed how hot and cold water moves. They use cups with holes, ice cubes, food coloring and a great visual with bubbles.

4. What difficulties arise when teaching climate change science as opposed to other branches of science to your students?
Climate change science has to be taught in the context of opportunities to find solutions. It’s an ever-evolving, changing, current event and the more our students can be factually informed, the better able they will be to approach solutions through scientific inquiry. Rather than a recitation of memorized facts, CReSIS is designed to encourage thoughtful responses based on hands-on inquiry with real-world implications.

5. What has been your favorite "lightbulb" moment in the classroom during CReSIS-based lessons?
My favorite “lightbulb” or “ah-ha” moment came when I saw students mentally grappling with the information that they were creating with their hands-on experiment with evaporation and how it is affected by heat and cold. Their hands and eyes were busy as they observed, drew, poured and felt, but the mental activity I saw and heard as they struggled to make meaning of the results of their experimentation was awesome. There is nothing better than to hear, “Now I get it!” It’s that kind of learning that stays with students and becomes a part of the schema upon which they continue to build.