Institute at Brown for Environment and Society

Teaching in Tandem: Voss Postdocs Bring Climate History to Fifth Graders

Two IBES postdoctoral research associates worked together to develop a learning module for local elementary school students.

Upon first meeting in September 2022, Voss Postdocs Jayson Maurice Porter and Lina C. Pérez-Ángel instantly realized one of their greatest similarities: a passion for engaged scholarship and youth education. So when Jayson was invited to teach the fifth graders of SouthSide Elementary about environmental issues, he knew exactly who to call on as a collaborator.

Lina and Jayson’s partnership was officially minted in January 2023, and they spent the next several months developing a four-class learning module about Climate Histories. Come early spring, they were ready to put their curriculum plan into action. Jayson teaching

The first two classes introduced students to the concept of archives, seasonality, and using tree rings — or, in Lina’s research, bacteria lipids — to decipher climate stories of the past. At the end of their second session, the students used a core replica and Skittles to reconstruct temperatures from thousands to millions of years ago.

The third session was a visit to Brown — including IBES’ greenhouse, the Simmons Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, and the John Hay Library — and the final class brought the students back to SouthSide to discuss their field trip, learn how leaf morphology varies by climate, and participate in another hands-on activity using printouts of plants. 

Reflecting on her efforts, Lina underscored her love for conducting outreach activities with K–12 students, noting that “the Voss fellowship gave me the freedom and encouragement to do something I'm passionate about.” She also expressed gratitude for IBES as a whole, noting, “Their support [in organizing space and materials for the field trip] made the students’ experience so much more wonderful than expected.”

Jayson attributed some of the project’s success to IBES’ new Strategic Plan, which outlines four key objectives including the need to foster engagement with partners outside of academia. “[That goal] encouraged me to think that this work could lead to bigger and lasting work with community partners,” he remarked. “I did not want to start bigger initiatives without seeing how IBES would support a smaller one. Luckily, the support was incredible and even inspired work of this sort.”

Lina TeachingAnd while the curriculum aimed to spur students’ curiosities, the fifth graders inspired Jayson and Lina to consider questions of their own — particularly about how to better communicate their work. “As a paleoclimatologist,” Lina said, “I have to say that [this project] made me more aware of the importance of framing my science to our society and putting each target audience in context.” 

The postdoctoral duo agreed on many things throughout their collaboration, and one shared thought seemed to govern the rest: the significance of their partner’s contributions. “I think that having Jayson in my same cohort enabled the elaboration and creation of this activity,” Lina noted. “Jayson's enthusiasm to talk with physical scientists like me made this collaboration possible.”

Jayson similarly highlighted Lina and her scholarship as an “inspiration” for the project. “I really wanted to collaborate with scientists at IBES, and her insights and expertise became the foundation of this joint effort,” Jayson stated. “That Lina loves working with youth and is excellent at it made it all even better and easier to do.”

Great work, Jayson and Lina! We at IBES can’t wait to see what you do next.

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