25 Development of Curricular Materials based on Climate Change Datasets and Measurements

Tuesday, 30 April 2013
North/West Room (Renaissance Seattle Hotel)
Anna Carolina Barbosa, University of Texas, El Paso, TX; and W. H. Robertson

In September, 6, 2012, President Barack Obama established as an important educational goal the need for recruitment and preparation of 100,000 math and science teachers in order to prepare our country to compete with emerging countries like China and India, especially regarding the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In order to comply with this goal, other actions are also being conducted, such as the development of a new set of scientific standards, such as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which has recently released its second draft for public revision and is expected to be finalized by March 2013. According to the NGSS most recent version, one of the disciplinary core ideas highlighted in this document is Weather and Climate. With the recent debate over the issue of climate change, mostly instigated by the media, and its implications on human activities, economy and international policies, the insertion of this matter as a disciplinary core idea, both for middle and high school, seems to be of great importance. Another factor that may have also contributed to the integration of this theme inside the NGSS document may have been related to research findings about students' misconceptions about climate change and its direct correlation with media influences (Rajeev Gowda et al., 1997) and lack of information about climate change inside curricular materials such as in science textbooks (Choi et al., 2010).

Rajeev Gowda et al. (1997) argue, for instance, that the identification of students' misconceptions about climate change processes is of significant importance in order for educators and scientists to develop pedagogical materials as well as teacher education programs that aim at addressing this “scientific illiteracy”. The authors conducted a survey with high school students and were able to identify five recurrent misconceptions about climate change: 1) “Inflated estimates of temperature change”; 2) “Confusion between CFCs, the ozone hole, and climate change”; 3) “Perceived evidence – warmer weather focus”; 4) “All environmental harms cause climate change”; and, 5) “Confusing weather and climate” (1997, p.2233-2235). Also, the students who believed in the existence of evidence associated with climate change identified news and television as their main source of information.

In this sense, Rajeev Gowda et al. (1997) identified four possible sources that might contribute to this “scientific illiteracy”: 1) “Information availability”; 2) “News media as a source of information”; 3) “Judgmental heuristics”; and, 4) “Fuzzy environmentalism” (p. 2236-2237). Interestingly, the authors pointed out the fact that students identified teachers as informational sources about climate changes much less frequently than news media. The authors then attributed this to the fact that traditional school curriculum may act against the in depth coverage of climate change related issues, especially because of its lack of multidisciplinary organization. Rajeev Gowda et al. (1997) stated that “In many students, these concepts are not yet fine-tuned enough to enable a sophisticated consideration of cause and effect, resulting in confusion over critical issues related to climate change” (p.2238).

One important consideration promoted by Rajeev Gowda et al. (1997) is the fact that “the effectiveness of educational messages is often dependent on the trust in the source of the information” (p.2238). This previous statement is of significant importance especially because the author has identified that students tend to attribute the highest amount of trust in scientists regarding the source of information that they might be exposed to. This means that the scientific community is not only responsible for informing individuals but also should take this trust as an opportunity to deconstruct lay people's, in this case, students' misconceptions about scientific matters such as climate change. Choi et al. (2010) also acknowledge the fact that it might be unpractical to believe that books could be updated as fast as new knowledge becomes available which means that educators should try to rely more on “digital materials, Web portals, and teacher training programs” (p.896). In this case, the authors argue in favor of scientists and science educators to collaborate in the development of pedagogical materials related to climate change that take into consideration students' common misconceptions about this matter.

In this regard, climate change simulation games such as SUSCLIME (de Vries, 1998) and KEEP COOL (Eisenack, 2012) could be considered effective pedagogical tools that aim at facilitating students' understanding of the correlation between variables, such as political, economic and biological, that are associated with climate change. However, while these simulation games focus on the articulation of diverse fields and their contribution to climate change, there is still a need for the development of curricular materials that can be used by science teachers in order to facilitate students' comprehension of meteorological and oceanographic concepts, such as atmospheric and terrestrial variations involved with climate change processes.

To this extent, this paper intends to present pedagogical activities and curricular materials that have been developed based on measurements and data sets obtained from sources such as the Data Distribution Center of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the collaboration project entitled Improving Decadal Prediction of Arctic Climate Variability and Change Using a Regional Arctic System Model (RASM). The pedagogical activities and curricular materials presented in this study focused on facilitating both high school and undergraduate students' understanding of concepts related to the ocean, land, sea ice and atmosphere as well as providing students with scientific climate datasets in order to not only apply their knowledge about the issue of climate change but also help them eliminate possible misconceptions about this matter.

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