Sixteen students crowded around a table in Ms. Smith’s P4 classroom at South Lodge Primary School in Invergordon, jostling to the front so that they could see the lines drawn on two jars on the table: one filled with rocks and the other with soil and grass. One student stood ready with a stopwatch while another had a measuring spoon. One at a time, they spooned water into the jars to see how long it would take it to fill the bottom of the jar. The class was seeing for themselves the important role that soil plays in managing water flow in the built environment. While the water flowed straight through the jar of rocks, it seeped slowly through the dirt. The main takeaway? That the way we design our communities will play a key role in adapting to more severe weather in the future.
This session was one of a series organised by Highland Council’s Easter Ross community support coordinator and staff from the Highlands and Islands Climate Hub and Highland Adapts. Highland Adapts, the regional partnership focused one climate change adaptation, led on this session. It involved experiments on multiple levels. While the students were experimenting with the jars, we were also experimenting with how to teach young people about preparing for climate change.
Climate change mitigation (that is, reducing the extent of climate impacts) and environmental stewardship permeate children’s media and is outlined in an ever-growing number of online learning resources. But climate change adaptation is still underdeveloped. This trend is not limited to education but rather is replicated in business and public sector alike, where net zero commitments are part of everyday workplans. Climate change adaptation, which focuses on preparing for the now unavoidable effects of climate change, is the flip side of this work. It is not a replacement for the fundamental changes needed to reduce our impact on the planet, but it is equally necessary.
For Ms. Smith’s class, the lesson began with a PowerPoint presentation, in part inspired by the children’s book “Joey and the Heatwave”, an innovative children’s book on adaptation produced by enliven Victoria in southeast Australia. The young students demonstrated the skills and experience we all already possess for adapting to our environment by voting on which Highland Coo was best dressed for different types of weather. The slides progressed to show that extreme weather means we need to change the things we do, not just what we wear. One Highland Coo was sweating in the sun, while the other relaxed with an icy beverage in the shade of a tree. Through the medium of Highland Coo drawings, the slides showed that climate change adaptation means changing the way that we live. The final slide: a Highland Coo sits in a boat in a concrete driveway while another stands on the grassy lawn of a tree-lined property with a green roof.
The two-jar experiment reinforced how much naturally permeable surfaces, like soil, can reduce flooding by absorbing water locally and reducing runoff. Increased flooding due to changing rainfall patterns and more heavy downpours is one of several projected impacts of climate change in Scotland. To wrap up the session, the students played ‘spot the difference’ with graphics from Adaptation Scotland’s Climate Ready Places which show how different landscapes can adapt for future climate changes. The children spotted how green spaces and infrastructure upgrades might look in a human (aka non-Highland Coo) community.
This session was a one-off, as the Highland Council community support worker contracts end and Highland Adapts focuses on its main remit: the first Highland climate risk and opportunity assessment. But it was a success, generating ideas for how a lesson plan on climate change adaptation for young people might work in Highland classrooms, and demonstrating the student’s deep capacity for engaging with and understanding how we need to prepare for climate change.
If you know a teacher who might be interested in using this lesson plan, please get in touch with Highland Adapts at email@example.com. If you would like to contribute to the first Highland climate change risk and opportunity assessment, please consider sharing one of your own weather and climate stories on the new Highland weather and climate story map.