Dr Lisa Urry: Climate Change and Biology: Helping Students Understand How Global Changes Affect Life on Earth

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Dr Lisa Urry, the lead author of Campbell Biology, highlights strategies and resources for helping students understand climate change research and the effects of climate change on organisms and ecosystems.

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Lisa Urry: Climate Change and Biology slides


In this webinar, Lisa Urry, the lead author of Campbell Biology, shared strategies for integrating discussions on global climate change into general Biology courses. She began by introducing herself and her teaching background at Mills College, where she encountered diverse student demographics, including many first-generation students with limited science knowledge. Reflecting on the importance of addressing climate change, Lisa outlined four key strategies.  

Firstly, she advocated for introducing climate change early in the course to stress its significance. Secondly, she suggested integrating examples of climate change across various topics throughout the syllabus, illustrating its impact at different levels of the biological hierarchy. 

Lisa elaborated on the subsequent strategies, highlighting the effectiveness of engaging students with data analysis and discussing climate change models. She emphasised the importance of empowering students to participate in the public conversation surrounding climate change, highlighting their crucial role in finding solutions. Lisa provided practical examples, such as incorporating discussions on polar ice caps' shrinkage during Chemistry lessons and examining the impact of changing climate conditions on various plant communities during cellular processes units. By encouraging educators to weave climate change discussions into their teaching, Lisa aims to equip students with both scientific knowledge and the motivation to address pressing environmental challenges

Within the diversity unit, Lisa suggested exploring the impact of climate change on viral transmissions, exemplified by mosquitoes expanding their range due to climate shifts. In the evolution unit, she addressed misconceptions regarding adaptation and natural selection, using examples like snowshoe hares' colour change mismatching with delayed snowfall. Moreover, Lisa recommended discussing the effects of changing climates on hybrid zones, exemplified by shifting locations of chickadees' hybrid zones due to climate alterations. Additionally, she highlighted the relevance of rising sea temperatures on marine producers and the impact of climate change on food crop growth and nutrient levels.  

In the animal unit, she illustrated how climate warming affects caribou populations' reproductive cycles, leading to mismatches between birth timing and peak vegetation. 

She highlighted the ecology unit as an opportune moment to address climate change, referencing material in the book that supports this dialogue, such as the definition and detailed description of global climate change on page 1204. Lisa also presented a comprehensive figure, "Make Connections," from the final chapter, illustrating the effects of climate change across different levels of biology, serving as a useful reference throughout the course. Moreover, she emphasised the importance of engaging students with data analysis, showcasing exercises from different chapters that encourage students to draw conclusions about climate change and its impacts.  
Lisa further stressed the significance of discussing potential solutions to climate change, both scientific and political, to empower students to contribute to addressing this pressing issue. 

In the Q&A session, participants discussed their experiences around climate change and its integration into teaching practices.  

Henry Greathead, an animal scientist, highlighted the significance of incorporating climate change discussions into his teaching approach, drawing connections to animal nutrition and livestock production. He expressed gratitude for the insights provided, indicating his intention to explore new links and examples for his teaching materials.  

Mark Koren, from Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, discussed his approach to teaching Biology to aspiring high school teachers. He expressed interest in aligning the curriculum with global change themes and sought suggestions for additional examples to integrate into his course. Lisa welcomed collaboration to enrich teaching materials and encouraged participants to contribute ideas for improvement. 

Throughout the session, participants exchanged ideas on engaging students in active learning strategies, such as group projects to address climate change challenges. Lisa shared memorable teaching moments, including stories of student perseverance and success in understanding complex concepts. The session concluded with reflections on the role of educators in fostering increased awareness and action on climate change issues, emphasising the importance of empowering students to become advocates for positive change.

Lisa Urry's "Biology: a global approach" is now available in eTextbook, print and with MasteringBiology. Access your complimentary sample copies from our online store.

Lisa Urry's "Biology in focus" is now available in eTextbook, print and with MasteringBiology. Access your complimentary sample copies from our online store.


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