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Innovation and Climate Education: The Journey of PI-CASC’s Education Hub

Meet the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center’s (PI-CASC) Education Hub: a vital educator resource in a region where climate education is as diverse as its landscapes. 

Children sit in front of a computer learning about climate.Launched in 2021, the Climate Education Hub offers teachers a rich collection of place-based lesson plans, tools, and data sets focusing on climate science in Hawaiʻi and the US- Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI). Materials on the Hub are co-produced by PI-CASC researchers, educators, and local knowledge holders. Some tools on the website are sourced from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and other trusted partners. These resources foster climate literacy while supporting scientific discovery and environmental stewardship, addressing the unique ecological and cultural diversity of the Pacific Islands.

Teaching climate science in the Pacific Islands requires a nuanced approach that reflects each region’s diverse geography. Hawaiʻi illustrates this complexity. Encompassing 132 islands, reefs, and shoals, Hawaiʻi’s eight major islands host ten of the world’s 14 climate zones. This ecological diversity supports enormous biodiversity, with many native Hawaiian species being endemic or found only in that location.

Additionally, Hawaiʻi, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are situated along or near the Pacific Ring of Fire, a region known for intense seismic and volcanic activity. Meanwhile, regions like the American Samoa face large risks from rising sea levels. Its low-lying topography, combined with tectonic subsidence—the gradual sinking of land—makes it especially vulnerable to rising sea levels. 

Each of our Pacific Islands has unique landscapes and biodiversity, factors that heighten their susceptibility to ongoing climate changes.

The Hub’s Origins 

Emily Sesno and Cherryle Heu founded the Education Hub in 2021 with support from PI-CASC. Sheree Watson, PhD, initiated and led the project, envisioning a way to transform climate science education. Watson established the Hub’s foundation before transitioning to her current role as a Partnership Ecologist with the USGS. Around this time, Cherryle and Emily started working together to bring those foundational ideas into reality. 

Heu was a contractor specializing in interactive maps and Esri web applications. She contributed insights from her work with the ʻIke Wai education and outreach team and worked on technical aspects of the Hub, like building the rain and drought dashboards. Sesno, a former scuba instructor and outdoor educator, contributed expertise from her graduate research on climate impacts on marine invertebrates. Her research included publishing the Sea Earth and Atmosphere (SEA) curriculum for grades 3-5, enhancing her ability to develop comprehensive educator resources.

“This project began with the broad goal to support and develop PI-CASC’s ability to contribute to climate education. We had so many ideas and needed a place to put them,” Sesno explained. “What started as a website has become a bigger type of portal than just a resource library. It’s a pathway that supports curiosity, conversation, learning, and friendships.”

Upon the culmination of the original award supporting the Hub’s development, PI-CASC sought to continue the Hub’ʻs growth and applications by supporting Sesno as a USGS employee and Heu as an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellow. In January 2024, Heu stepped down from her ORISE fellowship to conduct research for the Pacific Drought Knowledge Exchange, another PI-CASC-funded project.  Emily continued to oversee the Hub’s success as a USGS outreach biologist and PI-CASC’s education lead.

Headshots, side by side, of Emily Sesno, Maya-Lin Green, and Jessica WongIn January 2024, the education team expanded with ORISE fellows Maya-Lin Green and Jessica Wong. Both joined to advance new and existing initiatives in education and communications. Blending her passion for education with a knack for storytelling, Maya-Lin has woven a diverse background in education, journalism, and community engagement. Currently, she’s finishing her undergraduate degree at the University of Hawaiʻi Hilo, studying mass communications and media journalism. Jessica, who earned her bachelor’s degree in graphic design at The Art Institute of Phoenix, has over ten years of experience in communications, brand design, and advertising. In her free time, she’s worked as an animal care volunteer at Ke Kai Ola on Hawaiʻi Island, helping to rehabilitate young, sick, or injured Hawaiian monk seals back to health for release back into the wild. Together Sesno, Green, and Wong bring a complementary blend of skills and experiences – further advancing PI-CASC’s educational outreach in climate science across the Pacific Islands.

Future Offerings

A notable addition to the Hub, set to launch in July 2024, is the interactive Kīlauea Story Map. Integrating USGS data, Hawaiian moʻolelo (story), and art, this visual tool offers an immersive exploration of hot spot volcanism and an intriguing lake at the Kīlauea summit. The Story Map provides educators with an engaging method to present Kīlauea’s distinctive features and associated cultural narratives.

As the Hub grows, it will add new climate topics, including fire, water, native plants, and invasive species. These additions will launch in the next six months, building on current PI-CASC research and giving teachers more tools to teach localized science. In July 2024, the Hub also launched an education blog. Monthly blog posts will keep readers current on climate science education projects, foundational climate science information, and how-to guides to better utilize the website’s resources. These collaborative efforts continue to broaden the Hub’s impact and reach. 

In Fall 2024, Green will partner with Danielle Bartz, PhD candidate and National Climate Adaptation Science Center (NCASC) Diverse Knowledge Systems Fellow, to commence an in-class education program with schools across Hawaiʻi Island. The pilot program will bring the Kīlauea Story Map and a Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) Lesson into select classrooms to foster collaboration, creating opportunities for researchers and teachers to work together. Behind the scenes, the education team is working with collaborators to organize an annual event for teachers. They’re also collaborating to build stronger ties across the Pacific, including education communities in Guam and the Marshall Islands.

Mari-Vaughn Johnson, the PI-CASC regional administrator, highlighted the Hub’s strategic importance in making science more accessible and collaborative.

“It is so rewarding to see the Hub continue to grow. I think this effort really exemplifies some of PICASCʻs core goals, namely to make diverse knowledges, including science, accessible,” Johnson explained. “I definitely think the Hub is a much needed pathway, not only to get science into the hands of our educators, but also to educate scientists about the value of working more closely with our communities.”

We invite you to explore the Hub’s current offerings and join our mailing list for timely updates on new materials. Please do reach out if you want to engage with us in developing this valuable resource.

PI-CASC Education Hub Features

Features Description Application
Lessons aligned to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)  Find lesson plans and curricula aligned to NGSS standards for K-12 education in the U.S. Seamlessly implement lessons into classroom curriculums 
Lessons with Hawaiian Mo’olelo  Find lessons centered on Hawaiian history, mythology, and local ecological knowledge Teach students place-based climate science education
Climate Topics Drought, sea level rise, and coral reefs and more to come! Find education materials related to specific climate topics
Resources  Specific for students, teachers, and researchers Access tailored resource selections for in-person and online programs and opportunities
Education Blog  Regional education initiatives, foundational climate science information, how-to guides  Learn about tools and events related to climate education

 

 

Sources:

U.S. Geological Survey. “Ground Water Atlas of the United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” Pubs.USGS, https://pubs.usgs.gov/ha/ha730/ch_n/N-HItext1.html. Accessed 26 June 2024

U.S. Geological Survey. “Exploring Hot Spot Volcanism and a Mysterious Lake at the Summit of Kīlauea Using a Story Map.” USGS, https://www.usgs.gov/educational-resources/exploring-hot-spot-volcanism-and-a-mysterious-lake-summit-kilauea-using. Accessed 28 July 2024