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Garrett Billington, an earth science teacher at Lakenheath High School, assists ninth-grader Renee Anderegg in her studies.
Garrett Billington, an earth science teacher at Lakenheath High School, assists ninth-grader Renee Anderegg in her studies. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)
Garrett Billington, an earth science teacher at Lakenheath High School, assists ninth-grader Renee Anderegg in her studies.
Garrett Billington, an earth science teacher at Lakenheath High School, assists ninth-grader Renee Anderegg in her studies. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)
As part of his global-warming instruction at Lakenheath High School, Garrett Billington also manages the Green Power race team, which is comprised of students who build and race an electronic vehicle like the one seen here. The vehicle can reach speeds of 48 mph using a wheelchair motor without giving off any pollution, Billington said.
As part of his global-warming instruction at Lakenheath High School, Garrett Billington also manages the Green Power race team, which is comprised of students who build and race an electronic vehicle like the one seen here. The vehicle can reach speeds of 48 mph using a wheelchair motor without giving off any pollution, Billington said. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)

Many students in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe system are more likely to recognize Al Gore as someone from that Oscar-winning environmental film than as a failed presidential candidate.

That’s partly because the former U.S. vice president ran for the top office in 2000, a long time ago for those attending elementary school. And partly because “An Inconvenient Truth” is making its way around science classrooms as part of a discussion on the world’s climate.

DODDS officials stress that teachers who show the film are using it as only a small part of the curriculum, and that many other media reports are also introduced and analyzed.

Though the mention of “global warming” is enough to get some people’s blood boiling, DODDS can’t shy away from controversy, according to specialists who work in the agency’s European headquarters.

“We don’t see it as [controversy],” said Sadie Fairley, instructional support specialist for middle school science. “We are trying to teach our students to be critical consumers of knowledge.”

Lynn Smith, who holds a similar position for high schools, said controversies abound in science today. Stem cell research. Creationism vs. evolution. Whether or not Pluto is a planet. She said the human understanding of many aspects of science changes as discoveries are made.

In fact, many textbooks used in schools can’t keep up. So discussions of current events are added to supplement the texts. That also allows students to tie personal experiences with theories.

“It’s out in the news,” said Susan Ramsey, the science specialist for the elementary level. “It’s a current event. So I do imagine that our classrooms are addressing the topic.”

All three specialists stress that DODDS strives to teach students to think scientifically.

“It’s very important we don’t direct [students] on what to think on an issue,” Smith said. “They need to think in a scientific manner.”

Depending on the grade level, global warming isn’t necessarily even mentioned by name in textbooks. And DODDS’ standards don’t specifically mention it. The subject is closely related to a number of topics that are included in the standards.

Garrett Billington, who teaches chemistry and earth science at Lakenheath High School in England, said he believes there are a lot of hard facts to present in the discussion about global warming.

A former ranger for the National Park Service, he cites studies and reports that say the world is getting warmer. He’s willing to accept an argument that the process might just be part of a natural cycle — although he said he doesn’t believe that — and his students take part in experiments such as how the consumption of a gallon of gasoline affects the environment.

“I always allow students to bring up their points of view, as long as they’re willing to support them,” he said. “They can quote from the Bible, from a report, just as long as they back it up.”

He said he hadn’t shown “An Inconvenient Truth” to his students, but plans to. At least one other teacher at the school has shown it, he said.

Michelle Kalina, the science representative at Naples Elementary School in Italy, said all sixth-graders there will see the film as part of their studies on the earth’s systems. Other events include Global Warming Night, a Global Warming Walkathon on Arbor Day and a schoolwide recycling program.

Ramsey said she believes global warming is a hot topic because of such things as the film and a vigorous debate among not only the scientific community, but also different parts of the political spectrum.

“It’s something that’s not new in our school,” she said. “[Climate change] is something we’ve been talking about in education for a long time. Twenty or 30 years at least. But I don’t know that our schools are doing anything different.”

Russ Claus, the principal at Darmstadt Elementary School in Germany, said his students have been studying climate change and global warming “even before Al Gore won the Oscar.”

The school’s third-grade class has been collecting daily temperatures for the last three years and charts the readings.

Global warming will be an important study topic next fall, when the school is combined with the middle school. Each year, the school picks eight science themes over a six-week period for children to study. Claus said some students had expressed an interest in studying the environment, prompting teachers and administrators to make a project, dubbed “Our Changing World,” the focus next school year.

“We’re not taking a political view,” Claus said. “We’re just looking at, ‘Hey, we’re seeing changes. We’re measuring changes ourselves.’ And we want to find out more, so that the kids can come to their own political decisions, to come to their own sociological decisions.”

Reporter Scott Schonauer contributed to this report.

Migrated
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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