What causes climate change? Frog farts? Guitar factory emissions? An increase in the sun’s power initiated by exploding comets? The amount of climate change misinformation and disinformation out there can make it hard for kids to understand the crisis. For teachers, it’s a challenge to find credible, high-quality, student-appropriate materials to teach this critical subject. SubjectToClimate, one of the ventures in the inaugural Harvard Climate Entrepreneurs Circle, is setting out to change this. Their online connector helps K-12 teachers of all subjects find science-based, unbiased, and engaging materials on climate change. SubjectToClimate recently raised $200,000 and will officially launch to the public on August 1.
We were glad to speak with SubjectToClimate co-founders David Jaffe, David Rhodes, and Margaret Wang about how their venture has grown and why this effort is meaningful for them!
Harvard Innovation Labs: What inspired the three of you to start this venture, and how did you come together as a team?
David Jaffe: This venture began as a result of my capstone project at the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, where I am a Senior Fellow. Previously, I was a business executive, but I was always passionate about climate change and education. I was working on a way to combine my passions when I met David Rhodes and Margaret Wang at a webinar about climate change education through the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Margaret Wang: David Rhodes and I actually created a climate change leadership curriculum for a class project at Harvard Graduate School of Education. But we were both inspired to do work in climate change education way before, as educators. I was a high school teacher in the Middle East, teaching economics, business management, history, and entrepreneurship. I was always trying to make it more relevant for my students. Climate change was one of the topics my students really cared about; it made my students actually want to learn about supply and demand graphs as well as negative externalities! More personally, I am an avid outdoors person as well as a triathlete and ultra-marathon runner, which makes me naturally interested in the environment and climate change.
David Rhodes: As an 8th grade social studies teacher, I developed a capstone civic action project in which students chose a topic to research. Ultimately, the project encouraged them to think through how their voice could contribute to the way forward. Many of my students chose to focus on climate change, and their dedication to learning and action inspired me. Before HGSE, I helped run a pilot program focused on leadership skills, civic agency, and climate change in collaboration with the Paleontological Research Institution. The opportunity to work with Margaret on a climate change leadership curriculum opened the door to reach a broader audience, and now, working together with David Jaffe, we’re taking the impact to a whole new level.
HIL: Has your venture changed since you first conceived of it?
David Jaffe: Initially, I was thinking of creating curricula for schools on climate change, but we discovered that it’s expensive to create and difficult to get schools to adopt. In researching what was out there, I discovered that there are already a lot of great educational materials about climate change. We just needed to help teachers access them. That’s why we have developed a “Yelp” model for SubjectToClimate, with many other features to support educators. We are continually testing new ideas with teachers.
David Rhodes: From interviews and surveys, there’s a sense that teachers feel isolated in education related to climate change. They often share how much they’d appreciate the opportunity to connect with other educators navigating similar challenges in the classroom. SubjectToClimate will have a community board that opens possibilities for teachers to network, ask each other questions, and exchange ideas.
HIL: It sounds like there are wonderful resources out there for teachers and students; they just need better access to those materials. You also spoke about leadership. How does your venture encourage leadership in addressing climate?
Margaret Wang: Leadership is about building curious inquirers and empathetic problem-solvers that can work with others. Leadership is already tied to competencies that are taught in the classroom across disciplines such as English, Economics, Science, and Math.
While SubjectToClimate includes a collection of teaching resources, teachers sometimes say that they don’t know what to do with a particular teaching resource. So we’ve developed SubjectToClimate lesson plans. We’ve taken some of our climate-related resources and put them into an engaging lesson plan. Students inquire, investigate, and inspire. They’re the ones being curious and asking questions, looking at different disciplines. Then, they learn to take action. I think that’s a very important aspect of leadership! And that’s based on frameworks that already exist such as IB Circle of Inquiry, C3 Framework, NGSS Science Standards.
HIL: What is next for your venture? What are some next steps for you, and how do you see your venture growing?
Margaret Wang: We will officially launch on August 1st with our initial offering focused on middle school climate change sciences and environmental justice resources. After testing a beta version throughout June and July, we have been refining our site to better meet the needs of teachers, especially in time for back-to-school.
David Jaffe: Once we can demonstrate the impact our site has on educators’ abilities to teach climate change, we will then go out for funding to enable us to expand from middle school to K-12, across all disciplines.
HIL: What led you to focus more on middle school students, climate science, and environmental justice?
Margaret Wang: We’re excited to start with middle school because there are lots of opportunities for inquiry based learning and systems thinking. There’s more flexibility in the curriculum and a willingness to try new things. We still see significant opportunities with elementary and high school and look forward to rolling out there as well.
David Jaffe: Given the challenges our country faces, we wanted to ensure that we are covering topics that are critical in the world today. Climate science is important as it provides the facts around this massive change the environment is undergoing. Environmental justice is interdisciplinary and addresses disparities in the impacts of climate change through an equity lens. We’re also looking to ensure that our site is relevant across different contexts, from Title I schools to private schools.
HIL: That’s a great point, that climate change is not just about science, but also about equity and justice! Is there anything else that you’d like people to know about SubjectToClimate?
David Jaffe: We are a connector; we are not the content provider. We are advising teachers on which content to use based on their needs. We have been fortunate that content providers have been very receptive to partnering because it gives them and their content a broader audience.
Margaret Wang: Most teachers don’t teach climate change or spend very limited time doing so, whereas students indicate that they really want to learn about climate change. What we need to be teaching students in the next generation must address current problems and how to solve them.
In addition to having a database of resources, we are also showing teachers how they can integrate these materials in their curriculum through teaching tips and sequenced lesson plans.
David Rhodes: We’re trying to create a hub that will become a one-stop shop for climate educators. It will have a community board, professional learning opportunities, and other resources to support teachers. The guidance from teachers shapes SubjectToClimate, and this will allow us to become a complete resource for all their climate change education needs.
SubjectToClimate is part of our series of profiles on ventures in the inaugural Harvard Climate Entrepreneurs Circle, a global cohort of Harvard students and alumni actively working on solutions that tackle climate change. Want to learn more about what businesses are doing, can do, and should do to confront climate change? Check out the BEI Climate Rising podcast, hosted by Rebekah Emanuel, Director of Social Entrepreneurship for the Harvard Innovation Labs.