May 28, 2015 | Erin Bluvas, email@example.com
For several years, Sarah Rothenberg has had the notion that she’d like to teach her students about climate change and community service—at the same time. An assistant professor in the Arnold School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Rothenberg’s Global Environmental Health course (ENHS 323/ENVR 323) is an important stop on the undergraduate curriculum for many public health and environmental science majors.
“I had talked with the S.C. State Museum about doing a service learning project,” she says. “We didn’t get the external funding, but I decided to go ahead and pursue the project anyway." Rothenberg’s course covers a broad spectrum of topics on global environmental health, including drivers of pollution, pollution pathways, changes in the state of the environment, environmental exposures and effects, and international actions (e.g., treaties). She did her homework and learned that the topic of Climate Change fit within S.C. Academic Standards for High School Earth Science.*
Adhering to these teaching standards not only ensures free entry to the S.C. State Museum and an educational experience for K-12 students, but it also raised the bar for Rothenberg’s students. “In addition, climate change is probably the most important environmental issue today,” she says. Rothenberg grouped the students into five teams of four or five and challenged them to convert their college-level experience into a poster that would engage the K-12 students on a higher level.
Rothenberg kept her standards and expectations high, providing several rounds of feedback and revisions. “I believe my students got more out of it because they created truly scientific posters,” she says. “I could tell that they really understood the concepts if the poster was scientifically correct.”
On the day of the poster display, Rothenberg was delighted with her students’ work and their presentation skills. “That day at the museum was probably the best day ever at USC for me,” she says. “At the end of the day, we all had so much energy; I was really proud of how they connected with each other and the kids.”
Rothenberg was especially thrilled about the service and the learning outcomes from the project. “They were doing more work, putting in more energy, getting way more feedback,” she says. After teaching Global Environmental Health several times, this particular class had the highest GPA compared to her previous classes. “I knew that we would enjoy giving back to the community, and we’d have fun,” she says. “But I didn’t expect the added higher level of learning for other topics besides Climate Change, and that’s what has me really excited.”
Her students agreed. Phil Dyment, a junior majoring in international studies, felt that the project deepened his knowledge about climate change and opened his mind to varying perspectives. “I believe more professors should incorporate educating the community into their curriculum,” he says. “This university has the responsibility to help local schools improve on the level at which they educate.”
"Dr. Rothenberg is an excellent professor who is very passionate about what she teaches,” says Brittany Johnson, a junior who plans to join the U.S. Army’s medical corps as an officer after she graduates with her public health degree. “Her positive attitude and enthusiasm really enhanced the learning environment and increased my passion for learning.”
Rothenberg is looking forward to exploring these types of projects further and finding additional ways to elevate student learning. Next time they will create scavenger hunts within the poster displays to make the posters more interactive for K-12 students, and she will explore other venues, including presentation of posters at K-12 schools in rural S.C. (though the museum has already welcomed them back). She has already secured a Center for Teaching Excellence Integrated Learning grant to do the project again next year. She also plans to have her students submit their work to Discovery Day.
*High School Science Standard S.1.A.2: Human activity increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Deforestation, land-use concerns, burning of fossil fuels, over population, and carbon emissions are examples of human impacts on the carbon cycle. The increase of CO2 has been linked to climate changes and increase in greenhouse gases.