Environment Grant: Teaching Today, to Save Tomorrow

Our 2019 Environment Grant recipient is Colorado-based Basshead Instructional Designer & Physicist Malanka Riabokin.

Malanka has taught science for years, and designed courses for the University of Arizona. She heard a story on NPR right around when our grant application launched, about how most teachers don’t teach Climate Change, and how hard it is for overworked teachers to find good materials for instruction on one of the gravest threats to our future.

So, she is going to change that.

About The Project

Throughout Summer 2019, Malanka is going to put her science nerd skills to use, full time, and build a four week high school science course on Climate Change using our $10,000 grant. This course will be released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License, which means anyone can use it, adapt it, share it—as long as the creators are credited and everything is offered for free. We’ll let her explain more…

Climate change poses an existential threat to life as we know it. A 2018 Reuters poll found that 72% of Americans are concerned about climate change, and many across the country have been personally affected by extreme weather events over the past decade. However, a recent NPR/Ipsos poll found that 55% of American teachers say they do not educate their students on climate science (Jenkins, 2019). That’s more than half of American children who are growing up ill-equipped to understand the challenges of the real world that lie ahead.

I am a teacher myself, and I have worked in the sciences and academia for over 10 years. When I search for climate lessons online I find that many are single-topic lessons, or that lessons are only accessible via membership to certain associations. Government sites that used to be trusted sources of information are no longer available.

If a teacher does find a set of lessons they like, they may have to spend additional time educating themselves on the subject if they don’t have a strong science background. This research can take hours, and our already over-worked and under-appreciated teachers have precious little time to spare.

I want to help.

I will prepare a self-contained, four-week high school science course on climate change. It will be the equivalent material of three days per week in the classroom, including:

  • Teacher’s handbook/primer on climate change. A basic instructional guide for teachers, supplementary materials and an appendix of external references
  • Syllabus and four weeks of complete lectures
  • Three weekly assignments and grading rubric
  • One final project and grading rubric
  • External resources and further learning opportunities for students

Specifically, these are the topics I am proposing:

  • Week 1: Defining climate change; the greenhouse effect
  • Week 2: Carbon cycle; human contributions to global warming
  • Week 3: Impact on the environment
  • Week 4: Renewable energy, countermeasures; taking action

I want to make these all available FOR FREE for any teachers who want access. I have a deep passion for science education and I would be thrilled to provide an all-inclusive lesson plan that teachers can easily present in their class, confidently. I have even found resources to help teachers deal with climate denying rhetoric in the classroom.

I will bring characteristic Basshead love and contagious enthusiasm to this project. Abandoning the usual apocalyptic, accusatory tone, I appeal to the common good in everyone. The only way to truly inspire someone is to get them to genuinely care about something. For the final project the students calculate their carbon footprint, and they will also be asked to choose one action to reduce their carbon footprint that is specific to preserving something (clean air, water etc.) that they think is important.


Caspani, M. (2018 December 13). More Americans view climate change as ‘imminent’ threat: Reuters/Ipsos Poll. Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change-usa-poll/more-americans-view-climate-change-as-imminent-threat-reuters-ipsos-poll-idUSKBN1OC1FX

Jenkins, E. (Host). (2019, April 22). How Some Teachers In Alaska Are Tackling the Subject of Climate Change [Radio broadcast episode]

About Malanka

I am a quadrufoil threat. I’m a science nerd, instructional designer, educator and a Basshead.

Quadrufoil does not mean quadruple, but it’s an awesomely nerdy science term that has to do with telescope optics. This brings me to my first point – how am I qualified to teach this science? I am a nerd’s nerd. I have a double B.S. in astrophysics and physics, an M.S. in Physics, and 10 years of work in academic science. I will examine every fact I include in the course with the highest scientific rigor. I’ve had to write scientific papers that withstand the critiques of peer-review. I know how to justify my science, and I’ll be able to quickly learn any new concept I encounter during my course research.

I am confident in my ability to produce a course in this way because I have spent the last 18 months doing exactly this type of work. In the spring of 2017 I began working for Professor Chris Impey at the University of Arizona, and on April 8th we launched the course that I designed. It’s called Astrobiology: Exploring Other Worlds, and you can find it on Coursera. It’s free. I was responsible for putting together the syllabus, all of the lectures, quizzes, feedback, writing assignments and the final project. Putting together a four-week high school module would be a mini-version of this work.

I love teaching, and I am a fish in water in the classroom. At this stage in my life I stand by the saying that lack of education is the root of all evil. Having worked in the realms where education itself (lesson plans, classes) is produced, I know that there is a quagmire of red-tape and administrative nonsense that precludes someone like me proposing a class like this in a University setting. I chose the name ‘guerrilla scientist’ to reflect my desire to identify educational scenarios that don’t have sufficient support (i.e. climate change in high school), going in and making a useful tool to help educate on the subject, dropping it off for the masses and disappearing back into my nerd-jungle.

Finally, I’m a Basshead. I feel the power of positive community inspiration and the draw to Bassnectar events because I am one of those who craves authenticity and vivaciousness in life. I’m doing this as an act of guerrilla science education, going around academia and their rules to get involved with an organization, Be Interactive, that gives a fuck and just wants to do the right thing. I just want science teachers to have what they need, for free, from a person who knows how to make quality academic lessons. I’m not producing this course just to grease the skids on a tenure track position for a university, I don’t want to make any money, and I’m not pushing any kind of ideology. I wish to enact the sentiment of astronomy rock-star, Carl Sagan (to paraphrase):

The present state of discord and distrust of science underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another. To preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, we must honor it and honor ourselves by acting collectively to educate ourselves and transition to a more sustainable way of life. Because it is the only home we’ve ever known.

This is how women in science change the world.

we can do more