Teacher Testimony
Suzanne Horsley

Teacher Testimony - Suzanne Horsley

This GivingTuesday, we are profiling some of the amazing educators who work with us at SubjectToClimate and apply their passion and knowledge of climate change education in the classroom to raise awareness of this topic. We spoke with Suzanne Horsely, who teaches Wellness to K-5 students at Toll Gate Elementary School in the Hopewell Valley school district located in New Jersey. Suzanne has always had an interest in the outdoors, eventually receiving a Master’s degree in outdoor education and working for 15 years as a residential summer camp counselor. According to Suzanne, “it all aligns” with climate change education, which she practices regularly with her elementary students.

Meet Suzanne

Suzanne has written four lesson plans for SubjectToClimate, all of which are featured on SubjectToClimate’s New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub. In her own classroom, Suzanne utilizes two lesson plans geared towards K-5 students, both of which connect climate change to physical fitness skills in creative ways. Her class was featured in The Washington Post in November 2022.

Lesson Plans

Below are the four lesson plans Suzanne wrote for SubjectToClimate, all of which are featured on StC’s New Jersey Climate Change Education Hub

Exploring Lesson Plans

Catch Your Breath

Grades: 3rd, 4th, 5th

Subjects: Social Studies, Civics, Health

Resource Types: Lesson Plan

Her “Catch Your Breath” lesson for grades 3-5 teaches students about climate change while allowing them to practice throwing and catching. The aim of the game is to get rid of all CO₂ “molecules” (represented by any type of ball that is developmentally appropriate for one’s students to practice throwing and catching) in the atmosphere. One group of students represents the trees in the forest, while the rest throw CO₂ at them.

A third grader throws a yarn ball — representing a carbon dioxide molecule — during Suzanne Horsley’s climate change lesson at Toll Gate Grammar School in Pennington, N.J. (Caroline Preston/The Hechinger Report)

The game is timed, and the goal is to throw all of the CO₂ so that it is absorbed by the forest, but as time goes on, the throwing group will acquire more CO₂ balls to throw (to represent increasing emissions), while some students acting as trees will be removed and/or moved further back to represent deforestation. Thus, the students see that increasing emissions coupled with fewer and less absorptive trees means that more CO₂ stays in our atmosphere.

Take It to the Forest

Grades: 6th, 7th, 8th

Subjects: English Language Arts

Resource Types: Lesson Plan

Her lesson for grades K-2, "Take it to the Forest", is similar in that its aim is to remove all CO₂ molecules (again represented by some sort of ball) from the atmosphere. Here, Suzanne begins by setting up the “Earth” as it would have been in the 1700s, with plenty of trees and relatively low-emissions activities. The students go to different stations that represent typical daily life activities of someone living in the 1700s. Different activities involve different emissions levels, and students will pick up more CO₂ molecules accordingly.

Photo by Caroline Preston

The students will drop CO₂ molecules off at trees (often represented by Poly Spots); each tree can absorb 4 CO₂ molecules. The game is timed, so that students will observe how many CO₂ molecules produced by their activities could be absorbed by the trees. Then, Suzanne resets the game based on the forests and activities of today. Here, many trees have been chopped down, so there are fewer Poly Spots where students can deposit their CO₂ molecules, and daily activities yield much higher emissions. For example, there are now cars and buses that the students will use as transport methods, which will require them to carry many more CO₂ molecules as they proceed to different stations.


Students notice that it is much harder to make sure all the CO₂ molecules are absorbed, and many more molecules remain in the atmosphere. After the timer ends, the class discusses the effects of having so much more CO₂ in the atmosphere and reflects on the ways in which different activities yielded different emissions levels (i.e., driving a car emits much more CO₂ than riding a bike or walking). Part of this discussion involves addressing the fact that many technological advances that have made our lives much easier have had detrimental effects on our environment.


Finally, Suzanne and her students discuss practical ways in which students can ameliorate the imbalance of CO₂ production and absorption. Suzanne states that she makes sure the actions she suggests are realistic to what third through fifth graders can accomplish, such as taking better care of trees in their backyards or schools (as opposed to saying that they will plant more trees, or stop cutting them down). She also suggests actions such as buying lunch from school when you forget your lunch from home, as having someone drive your lunch to you at school releases another set of emissions.

Hands-on Games

These hands-on games encourage students to be active while engaging them on climate change issues by physically illustrating the changes that occur in our environment when we change our daily activities. Suzanne emphasizes that she always offers to connect her students to local organizations that work to mitigate the effects of climate change, so that if they are so inspired after the lesson, they can practically apply their learning to have a positive impact in their communities. 

Final Thoughts

Suzanne notes that she only sees her students once a week and must address a multitude of standards during the school year, making it a push to “squeeze in” climate change education when she can. As such, she hopes that other subjects are aligning with and supplementing the climate change education that she carries out in her classroom.


Ultimately, climate change education should be included across all disciplines to ensure that materials taught in one class are retained and the complexities of climate change are understood. By participating in SubjectToClimate’s GivingTuesday fundraiser, you are supporting teachers like Suzanne as they continue to educate our youth about climate change and encourage them to take action. In addition, you are helping SubjectToClimate to leverage more resources so that a greater number of educators across grade levels, subjects, and geographic areas will find ways to integrate climate change education into their own curricula. We hope you’ll join us!

About the Author

Julia Turner is currently a professional ballet dancer with the Grand Rapids Ballet, located in Grand Rapids, MI. She has danced professionally since 2014, during which time she completed her Bachelor's Degree at Harvard Extension School, graduating in November 2021 with a field of study in Economics and a minor in English. During her undergraduate career, Julia completed various research projects under the direction of James Carras, a Harvard Kennedy School adjunct professor and affordable housing consultant. Her research examined the affordable housing crisis, including devising ways to increase its supply (with a particular focus on financing mechanisms) and to better help individuals currently experiencing homelessness.