Teacher Craig Johnson likes to tell students that learning about climate change is like a Rubik’s Cube — you can’t fully understand it without looking at the relationships between all the parts, from science to politics to economics.
Helping students understand those many facets of climate change — a topic he loves — has been Johnson’s passion for more than a decade. On Monday, the science teacher at Apple Valley’s School of Environmental Studies (SES) will be one of eight individuals recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change for Climate Education and Literacy.
“Craig is this classic, high-energy, just passionate-about-environmental-issues kind of guy,” said fellow teacher Brad Johnson. “So when he gets going and it all comes out, it’s just fabulous.”
Craig Johnson was one of about 100 candidates for the White House award. He was nominated by a contact at the Will Steger Foundation.
Johnson has taken his students on field studies all over the world, from northern Minnesota to Scotland, Alaska to New Zealand, to see how people interact with their environment. He integrates climate change into his classes and also leads intense seven-day courses on topics related to climate change, like circumpolar studies.
“Craig is truly one of our leaders when it comes to environmental education,” said Dan Bodette, principal at the School of Environmental Studies. “He has his fingerprints throughout the curriculum [here].”
Johnson helped his school’s foundation get official observer status at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — it’s one of two high schools with that status — and brought students to the U.N. conference five of the past six years.
Johnson has taught at SES in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district for 14 years. Before that, he worked at an environmental education program for schools at St. Olaf College and taught science at other schools.
He thinks of himself more as a lifelong learner and a mentor than a teacher. He said that he doesn’t always have the answers, especially with a topic as thorny as climate change.
“The whole focus is getting opportunities for kids … to engage the world,” said Johnson.
“He really puts the effort in to help students if they’re struggling in school or if they’re having a lot of success,” said Bodette. “But he always keeps the focus on them.”