Teaching Climate Activism

Meet Professor Sarah Stapleton

On her EDST 410/50 class: Food and Schools.

Sarah Stapleton is an assistant professor in the Education Studies department at the University of Oregon and an affiliate faculty member with the Environmental Studies and Food Studies programs. Before earning her doctorate, she taught middle and high school environmental science, physical science, chemistry, and general science at public schools in California and as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Gambia, West Africa. Sarah is credentialed by the state of California to teach chemical and biological sciences.

At UO, Sarah works with undergraduates in the Education Foundations program, pre-service teachers in the UO Teach master's program, and doctoral students in the Critical and Sociocultural Studies in Education program. She also advises graduate students in the Environmental Studies program.





Teaching for Climate Activism

EDST 410/510 Equal Opportunity: Teaching for Climate Activism

This course is open to juniors and seniors in the Education Foundations undergraduate program. It is offered as an elective within a required social justice series. It is also open to graduate students, particularly those in the master's in teaching program, as an elective.









Q & A







Why the focus on activism in particular, and not just a class about teaching climate change?

We know from environmental education research that knowledge is not enough to inspire people to act sustainably. My own research has shown that asking students to engage in environmental action helps young people see themselves as environmental actors, furthering environmental identity.

Furthermore, climate change is such an urgent crisis, teachers need to engage with it in a way that inspires students to act NOW to make changes in their communities and country. To build agency and activism for my students, the fourth credit hour of the course asks students to engage in activism by creating and facilitating a workshop for K-12 teachers on climate change.

What drives you to address the climate crisis in your work?

There is no more urgent issue. It threatens our very survival as a species on this planet. I include a focus on climate change in every class I teach, but this is the first class in which it will be the central focus.

This September our community, state, and entire West coast has been threatened with unprecedented fire events and cloaked in hazardous air for over a week. These tragic fires are a direct result of climate change, so I don’t think it's been difficult to convince students in the course that it is time to do everything we can to mitigate and adapt.

What are the main takeaways you hope students will get from this class?

I hope they will 1. Know and understand why climate change is such an urgent issue; 2. Understand how and why climate change is a major social justice issue; 3. Have solid strategies for teaching climate change at whatever teaching level they plan to pursue, elementary through high school; and 4. Feel prepared, ready, and inspired to be climate change activists.

Since young people are at the front of the climate movement, how are you giving youth a platform in the design of this class, and in your work around climate change in general?

I give my students autonomy to focus on the specific areas and issues within climate change that compel them. They design and lead a teacher workshop based on their chosen foci.

I also ask local youth climate activists to visit as guest speakers, to share their experiences and insights about the movement and the roles of young people within it.

How can this kind of course can be a part of the solution to the climate crisis?

As a teacher educator, one of my primary missions is to prepare teachers to face and address the climate crisis through their teaching. While education is often a long-term investment toward change, given the ways young people have been leading the climate crisis, I think we are seeing ways in which education of young people can have direct influence on social change.