Climate change on Nebraska’s new state science standards

Produced by Matt Jensen, NewsNetNebraska

Science is an ever-changing thing, and because of that, the Nebraska Department of Education is adding climate change to our new state science standards. This decision was made in September of this year by the Nebraska Board of Education, who voted 6-1 in favor of passing the new standards. Climate change though, can be a controversial subject and not everyone agrees on it. Regardless, kids in public schools across Nebraska will now be learning this.

 How real is climate change and what are its effects? 

According to, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real. Dr. David Harwood, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor who studies ice records and climate history, is a part of that 97 percent.

Dr. Harwood said, “Climate change is real and it is happening right now and it is because of us.”

According to Dr. Harwood, we must think on a broader scale in context of how the climate changes, not just in the here and now. Dr. Harwood said you can see the subtle changes in climate (or temps increasing) after the industrial revolution and over the last century. The UNL professor emphasized these changes in climate are more than just the typical changes we have experienced over the centuries.

Dr. Harwood said, “If we continue with what we are doing, certain places will change. Sea levels will rise, some places will get a lot wetter and some will dry up.”

Dr. Harwood said all we need to do, is take a look at the past to realize this is going on and that things need to change.

“Look at the evidence, look at the ice records, the geology it’s all right there,” said Dr. Harwood.

(To see more on climate change and global warming click on this link to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s website.)

Not every scientist agrees on climate change being real or that it is caused by humans. According to an article on the Heartland Institute’s website, which reviewed and broke down the book, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming (published in 2015), there is no real “consensus” among scientists stating that climate change is real. According to the book, the only consensus all scientists have on climate change is that human activity could have an effect on climate, but whether the effect is global or severe is still up in the air. The book gives quite a few reasons for the disagreement on climate change, one of which, is the complexity of climate change and the lack of hard evidence or what that evidence really means. (For more information on click on either of the links above)

A Lincoln mom, Heather Schroer, said because of this, she isn’t sure if she is comfortable with climate change being taught to her children.

Schroer said, “Until there is concrete evidence, I just don’t know if I am comfortable with it.”

 What the standards really mean and their importance?

Sara Cooper, the head of science curriculum at the Nebraska Department of Education, and Dr. Harwood both believe climate change is something that needs to be taught whether you agree with it or not.

Professor Harwood said, “Whether you believe in climate change or not, it is a discussion that is going on around the world around you and students need to be aware of that.”


Yes, the state standards do include teaching climate change, but according to Cooper that was not the biggest change. Cooper said when you break down the standards, the main thing we are emphasizing is the process of observing, gathering and determining what the information means for yourself.

“That’s the big big shift, is this idea of students not just checking off a list of facts but actually engaging in the process of science… the shift is from learning about, to figuring it out” said Cooper.

According to Cooper, the science standards are not there to tell students what is and what isn’t. They are there as guidelines to tell the schools of Nebraska what our students have to know how to do. The science standards do not tell Nebraska school districts what text book they have to have or how exactly their curriculum is supposed to be.

For parents don’t agree with new science standards or climate change, Cooper said,”There is so much learning that takes place outside of the classroom environment, that as a parent you are engaged in your child’s life so much more than teachers are.”

Adam, a Lincoln parent who did not want to use his last name, doesn’t believe in climate change, but agrees with Cooper and isn’t worried about it being taught to his children.

Adam said, “I’m not worried about teachers “brainwashing” my kids because I talk to them and teach them enough at home.”

 How the standards were written 

The new science standards Nebraska adopted have been in the works for a couple of years. According to Cooper, who was the head of new science standards, writing for the standards began in October of 2016.

“That has been my main job for awhile,” said Cooper.

According to Cooper, Nebraska’s new standards include things from a variety of other state’s standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. The Next Generation Science Standards are science standards that a variety of states collaborated on and came up with.

Cooper said,”We took the best of everything we saw and we made it ours. Once we had a draft, we released that in May for public input and we received over 700 responses… and that came from all kinds of stake holder groups.”

Cooper said after gathering data and input from people and other sources, drafts of the standards were written, edited and re-written several times.

“We were constantly going back and forth between the feedback received and made lots of revisions actually, to the standards based upon what we saw after we sent that May draft out,” said Cooper.


Whether or not you believe in climate change, the process of learning about it will be taught to students across Nebraska. What the students decide to believe after going through the evidence and process of investigating climate change is entirely up to them. It may even be a good thing for all of us to do some investigating and critical thinking of our own into the issue of climate change.


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