ACES 2020-2021: Teacher professional development in climate and environmental sciences

UA Sky School ACES – Action for Climate Equity and Sustainability

Through this project, teachers will deepen their understanding of climate change and related environmental challenges, with a focus on the effects in Tucson and Southern Arizona. This project allows teachers to build content knowledge, create engaging science lessons, and spearhead a student-driven sustainability project addressing a need at the school or in the surrounding community.


  • Learn about large-scale and local climate issues from researchers at the University of Arizona and local agencies
    Connect with community leaders
  • Gain a solid understanding of the 2018 Arizona Science Standards and how to implement 3-dimensional teaching in your lessons
  • Be supported to develop engaging science lessons that incorporate reading, writing, and math
    Utilize place-based teaching to build relevance to your students’ lives
  • Paid professional development ($25/hour for all workshops)
  • 40 hours toward recertification


  • Attend a full day introductory seminar in late July before the school year starts
  • Attend half-day workshops on one Saturday each month from August to April
  • Implement science lessons in your classroom that you develop during the workshops
  • Lead a sustainability project developed with your students to benefit your school or local community
  • Share your lessons and project with the community


  • Currently teaching or will be teaching 4th, 5th, or 6th grade at a TUSD school in southern Arizona

The first year of the program has now been completed. Check out some of our teacher project presentations below!

Research study principal investigator / project lead
Rebecca Lipson

Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice

Project title
Building Environmental and Climate Education Equity and Action in K-6 Education

Project summary
As communities develop climate response plans to mitigate the hardships a changing climate brings, the gap between the haves and have-nots becomes apparent. This is seen even in Tucson, the third-fastest-warming city in the U.S., where inequity results in significantly less tree shade in the southern parts of the city compared to the north. Developing the next generation of environmental leaders to address these challenges locally requires inclusion of people from diverse backgrounds. However, many young people do not gain exposure to environmental science and climate change topics, nor do they build connections to their local environments, in part because their teachers are not well versed in these topics.

This project brings together Sky School and Project WET with the Tucson Unified School District. We will recruit two cohorts of twenty 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers in underserved schools for monthly, year-long professional development days on climate science and sustainability, emphasizing local issues. Through connections with University of Arizona researchers and community leaders, teachers will build knowledge of the science behind climate change and its local impacts. They will be supported by curriculum experts in creating engaging lessons to implement with their students. As a final project, students and teachers will utilize project-based learning to create and carry out an action plan on a sustainability topic they identify as important in their school or community.

This project will develop a cohort of teachers engaged in climate and sustainability, who will influence students at underserved schools for years to come.

Purpose of research
We are trying to find out whether K-12 teacher professional development programs impact these teachers’ classroom practices.

Nature of participant involvement in research
Your participation in the research will require approximately 1 hour of your time over 1 year. The research involves completion of surveys and potentially short interviews. The surveys will ask for demographic and employment information, but you may leave these questions blank if you like. We will do our best to protect your privacy throughout the research process. Your name will not be used in any research outputs.

Control group: a survey will be administered, either online or in person. This survey will be administered at the beginning and end of 1 year of time. Two separate control groups will be recruited, one per project-year.

Intervention group: a survey will be administered, either online or in person. This survey will be administered at the beginning of each project year to each cohort of teachers. Participants will then participate in the program over 1 year of time. During the program, participants will be observed and occasionally interviewed by project personnel at a time and location of their choice (e.g. before/after program activities) to determine what aspects of the program seem impactful and useful. Participants will be observed by the researcher during the program activities. At the end of the 1-year cohort experience, participants will fill out another survey.

Depending on time availability of project personnel, we may also request that participants fill out further surveys or respond to interview requests in the 1-5 year period after their participation in the program.

Institutional approval
An Institutional Review Board responsible for human subjects research at The University of Arizona reviewed this research study and found it to be acceptable, according to applicable state and federal regulations and University policies designed to protect the rights and welfare of participants in research.