Lens on Climate Change (LOCC)

Lens on Climate Change (LOCC)

Documenting the effects of climatic and environmental changes on students' lives and in their communities through short films.

The Lens on Climate Change project engages Colorado middle and high school students in film production documenting the effects of climatic and environmental changes on their lives and in their communities. Students are mentored by CIRES grad student mentors and Colorado Film School video mentors throughout the production of their films.

The following film provides an overview of our project and was produced for the NSF "STEM for All" video showcase. Lens on Climate Change is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation through their Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) initiative, a program to increase technological skills and career readiness for K-12 students. 

The Lens on Climate Change project provides two options for students to participate:  

  • 6 month long School Year program (October – March)
  • 1 week long Summer programs 

Interested in participating? Please contact Erin Leckey, Program Manager at email.

Program Structure

Each participating group of students is guided by mentors and program staff to complete four different steps in film production:

Phase 1 - Topic Definition and Script

During a kick-off meeting, students, mentors, and teachers brainstorm and distill topic ideas for the film. Supported by the science mentors, students create a concept map of their climate change topic from which they draft a script for their film, identify expert or stakeholder interviews (e.g. flood victims, park ranger, ranchers), and outline the footage that is needed with the support of the film mentors.

Phase 2 – Filming

Drawing from the many climate experts at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, and other Colorado-based research institutes, students film interviews with content experts and stakeholders representing diverse viewpoints. The film mentors support the students in filming both the interviews and footage to intercut with interviews (B-roll). Students carefully plan B-roll filming days by identifying and scouting locations. Science and film mentors help students find existing footage, audio clips, and still images to supplement their films.

Phase 3 – Editing

Following the storyboard, students edit their films with the help of film mentors and teachers using free software packages. Film mentors guide students with respect to fair use and copyright for music and other licensed materials. Students will receive some LOCC staff support around image and footage research and interviewee and B-roll scheduling to ensure completion of the films.

Phase 4 – Film Screening

All films will be screened during a festive film screening. Screening audiences will include students’ peers, teachers, parents, mentors, and the public. A panel of guest experts and student participants will discuss films following each screening.


Do you want to help kids learn about climate science through filmmaking? Do you want to gain mentoring experience?

Become an LOCC Mentor!

The Lens on Climate Change (LOCC) engages middle and high school students in film production documenting the effects of climatic and environmental changes on their lives and in their communities. Students are paired with science graduate students, film students and undergraduate student mentors to research, film, edit, and ultimately screen their films. The collaboration with mentors will also provide the middle and high school students with an introduction to college life and science careers.

We will begin recruiting mentors for our shortened 2018-19 School Year program in January
Contact Erin Leckey if you are interested. 

Types of LOCC Mentors:

Science Mentors  (University of Colorado Graduate Students)

The science mentor helps students to identify and research potential topics for their films. Science mentors help students to identify appropriate sources for information and to consider various perspectives on the issue. Science mentors can also help students to access resources at CU such as labs, equipment or experts to support the students' research.

Film Mentors  (Colorado Film School Students)

The film mentors help students to develop their scientific idea into a compelling film. Film mentors help students to develop the story around their topic and convey their message in a visually engaging way.  The film mentor is also responsible for the film equipment and teaching the students the technical aspects of film production.


The Lens on Climate Change is a great opportunity for students to explore how climate change affects their community in a hands-on project that allows them to pick their own topic and drive the creative process while learning film production skills.

Students learn how to make a professional film in a fun environment working with passionate and caring mentors. Students learn about science in an engaging and personal way through shooting their own film footage, interacting with scientists and other professionals and participating in film screening events. This program has been a positve and memorable experience for previous students and has been an avenue to help them receive internships to further their careers. Student can also repurposed their films for required school projects, 4-H projects or other community groups.

Participation in the program is free--all expenses are paid for.

At the end of the program, student-produced films are shown in a public screening where members of the community can view and give feedback on student projects. Students also gain connections to resources at the University of Colorado, the Colorado Film School in Denver (a community college) and learn about science career options.

"The most beneficial thing that I got from making the video was that to be confident, because when we first started making the video I was kind of thinking to drop out of the group and not do it. Then my teacher had a conversation with me that once you start something and you finish it you'll feel good about it and it will help me in life. That really helped me because when we got the video done, I was really glad that I made something and finished it." (Sixth grade student reflection)


The Lens on Climate Change program is an after-school program offered to Colorado middle and high school students. The program uses an innovative approach to teaching science and technology & project-based, student-directed learning with a place-based hook. Teachers will each work with a group of 6-8 students from their school and be supported by mentors from University of Colorado and Colorado Film School. They will recruit students from their school and participate in the after-school project meetings between students and mentors (a few meetings/month). The program runs from October through March. Teachers will receive a stipend for their work in the program. Travel to the film festival and substitute teacher fees will be paid for. 

Teachers will be able to learn technical details about video production during their connection with the program and build lasting partnerships with the University of Colorado and the Colorado Film School for future collaboration or support of their regular instruction. Teachers will be supported with curriculum materials and resources describing how to incorporate videography projects in regular classes with readily available resources.

During the pilot study for the LOCC projects, results from interviews, surveys, and pre and post tests indicate that students were highly motivated by their experiences and developed genuine interest in their science topic. Teachers reported that LOCC appealed especially to those who were not usually engaged in extra-curricular activities or who were not thriving in a typical classroom setting. As students took ownership for their work, teachers noted their improved ability to persist through a project. Additionally, we measured a change in student perception about who scientists are. Mentors included early-career and female scientists, and the project involved engagement with real scientific data. Teachers reported increased student interest in college and STEM careers.

"We have noticed that three of the students have really picked up their efforts and have openly talked about going to college. What an amazing contribution for our students!" (LOCC high school teacher)

"The project really demanded students to get out of their comfort zone. They had to interview professionals and discuss with experts" (LOCC middle school teacher).


The lead institution for the Lens on Climate change is the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint institute of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and CU, is a world leader in Environmental Sciences research and is the largest research institute on campus with 650 employees. It has the oldest and largest education and outreach program of all NOAA cooperative institutes.

The Lens on Climate Change is also assisted by several partners. The Colorado Film School of the Community College of Aurora has 30 faculty and about 500 students, a state-of-the art facility, and excellent technical infrastructure; it is an Apple Beta Site and has been identified as one of the top film schools in the US. Science Discovery is an acclaimed informal K-12 STEM education nonprofit based at the University of Colorado. Annually, SD impacts more than 30,000 students and teachers through after-school classes, summer camps, and STEM workshops. Inside the Greenhouse was founded by three University of Colorado professors in 2011 to deepen our understanding of how issues associated with climate change are/can be communicated, by creating artifacts through interactive theatre, film, fine art, performance art, programming, and appraising as well as extracting effective methods for multimodal climate communication. Their inter-disciplinary approach combines a solid foundation of scientific research with the expressive ability of the arts to make the story of climate change accessible and relevant. They work with University of Colorado students in a number of ways, primarily through two annual course offerings.

Publications and Press

Journal Articles 

Gold, A.U., Leckey, E., Littrell-Baez, M., Smith, L., and S. Lynds, 2018. Student-produced short films about impacts of climate change on local communities: An effective approach that combines art and place-based learning. Journal of Sustainability Education, 17, PDF

Oonk, D., Leckey, E.H., Gold, A.U., Margo-Schneider, J., Littrell-Baez, M., Smith, L., and S. Lynds, 2017. Lens on climate change: Using place-based learning to explore climate change effects, Science Scope. PDF

Gold, A.U., Oonk, D., Smith, L., Boykoff, M., Osnes, B., and S.B. Sullivan, 2015. Lens on climate change: Making climate meaningful through student-produced videos. Journal of Geography, 114, p. 235-246. PDF Book Chapter

Smith, L., Rooney-Varga, J., Gold, A., Oonk, D., and D. Morrison, 2015. Engaging secondary students in regionally relevant science topics through videography - Lens on Climate Change. In: Media Literacy as a Pathway to Bridge the Digital and STEM Divides: Interest Driven Media Projects for Teachers in the Trenches, PDF

News Articles 

Trinidad The Chronicle News (7/25/19)

CIRES (7/10/2018)

Aspen Public Radio (6/15/2018)

KDNK Community Radio (6/15/2018)

Glenwood Springs Post Independent (6/14/2018)

Sopris Sun (6/13/2018)

Glacier Hub (2/13/2018)

Daily Camera News Clipping | Video (7/20/2017)

Salida Mountain Mail (7/7/2017)

CU Boulder Today (6/15/2017)

Trinidad The Chronicle News (7/2016)

Daily Camera Article (2/15/2015)

Weekly Article (4/10/2014)

TV Coverage 

BV 22: here

BV 22: here

LOCC also participated in the 2016 NSF Video Showcase: STEM for All. 

Research Program

The LOCC program aims to engage students in self-motivated research and learning about a climate topic. It serves as a way to spark students’ interest in a career in science by supporting them in their own investigations with the help of undergraduate and graduate students. The program includes mentoring for science and technology skills such as: critical thinking, conducting research, generating critical questions (for interviews, peer and self evaluation), and technical aspects of film production. The LOCC program connects students who otherwise may not have this opportunity with college experiences and with the scientific community. Evaluation results from our previous programs show that the process of film production is a powerful tool for the students to explore and learn about climate change topics. 

The research plan addresses two broad questions:

(1) What experiences best support student competency, motivation, and persistence for productive participation in the STEM workforce of today or the future?

(2) What strategies might parents, mentors, and caregivers adopt using digital tools to develop student understandings of and appreciation for the scientific basis of technological developments?

Data collection is primarily through surveys that assess the students baseline knowledge, motivation to participate in the program, effectiveness of different support structures in the program and post-program knowledge gains. In addition to these surveys, a post-program focus group is held to ask participants about their experience and reflections.

Student data are aggregated and reported anonymously. We hope that the results of this research will benefit both the participants in our programs and contribute to furthering the field of educational research and instruction.

If you have additional questions about the research program, please contact our Program Manager.


Through the Lens on Climate Change, we have developed resources that teachers and informal educators can use to implement investigative filmmaking with their students. The links and information below offer tips and tools for incorporating aspects of LOCC in your teaching.


Great stories are learning tools for both the storyteller and the audience. They are also a basic part of the human experience, which is why they are such a powerful way to engage students. You can use these tools to help structure story development.  

Storytelling Principles

Storyboard Template


Filmmaking is visual storytelling, and we have tools that will help lay out the basic steps as well as worksheets to guide students. Filmmaking can be broken into three major parts: pre-production (developing the ideas and setting up the tools to make the film), production (filming) and post-production (editing and finishing). Below, we share tools for developing ideas, using outside media, and lesson plans for each step in the process.


Brainstorming Worksheet

Storyboard Worksheet

Guide to Creative Commons

Film Glossary


Pre-Production Plans


Production Lesson Plans

Post-Production Lesson Plans


Here we share implementation tips, guidelines for milestone, and assessment tools. The Teacher Handbook includes links to additional resources, as well as the complete set of lesson plans.


Teacher Handbook


Teacher Assessment Rubrics


Student Self-Evaluation Worksheet


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