Lawrence Hall of Science, 50 years: 1968-2018; University of California, Berkeley
Emily Weiss

Recognized for Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times

Emily Weiss, School Program Director at The Lawrence Hall of Science, spends a lot of time considering how to improve climate literacy. She not only teaches students about climate science, but how to talk to non-experts about climate change. In the 2020 fall semester, Emily taught Communicating Climate Science, a course for undergraduates through UC Berkeley’s  Geography department. Now her efforts as an instructor are being recognized as she is a recipient of one of the University’s Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times Award, recognizing outstanding teaching despite the challenges of shifting to a virtual classroom due to COVID-19. Awardees were selected from almost five hundred nominations campuswide.

Emily reflects on the course and its impact: “I really enjoyed collaborating with my outstanding and very thoughtful co-instructor Robert Rhew. The original in-person course, designed by Catherine Halversen, Lynn Tran, Robert Rhew, John Chiang, Mary Whelan, and me is really engaging and highly participatory. It was important to Rob and me to maintain this feeling in the online course. In redesigning the course for a virtual context, we were able to draw from the excellent strategies and practices of The Lawrence’s educators and Learning and Teaching team, as well as K-12 educators I’ve worked with over the past year—all of whom have been experimenting with effective online teaching practices. I’ve appreciated all I’ve learned from and with these colleagues, and it was exciting to have a full semester to try things out.”

With the course pivoting to a virtual setting, it still allowed students to improve their understanding of climate science while also developing their science communication skills. The course encouraged a supportive and collaborative environment with multiple peer discussions, adopted online tools for learning and engagement around climate change concepts, and hosted interactive guest speaker presentations (including one very impactful presentation on science communication and storytelling from Science at Cal’s Executive Director, Dione Rossiter). As part of their final project, UC Berkeley students demonstrated their knowledge and understanding of climate literacy and communication by engaging 8th graders in interactive, virtual presentations.

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