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Why and How We Teach about Climate Change

In Climate Change across the Curriculum, edited by Eric J. Fretz.  2015

Educating students about climate change is a complex curricular and pedagogical endeavor, carrying ethical considerations, and requiring contributions from different fields: climate science, science education, social sciences, and curriculum theory.  In the July 14, 2013 issue of Nature Climate Change, McCright et al. suggest “assembling an interdisciplinary team committed to improving climate change education … perhaps conducting STEM education research on the effectiveness of different strategies and pedagogies for increasing students’ scientific, quantitative and climate literacies.” (715). In a unique partnership between the Graduate School of Education and the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at Stanford University, our team of climate scientists, educators, graduate students with extensive teaching experience, and teacher educators pursued just such an effort. Pooling our respective areas of disciplinary knowledge and practical experiences, and acknowledging our diverse perspectives and inescapable biases, we collaborated at the university and with science teachers for four years (2009-2013). Funded by NASA, the overarching goal of our project, entitled The science and policy of global climate change: Professional development for K-12 teachers, was to enhance students’ knowledge of climate change as well as their awareness of mitigation and adaptation strategies that address its effects.

Over the course of the project, we have come to appreciate more fully the complexities and challenges of the task and the practical issues that arose. Climate change is unlike many other topics taught in science. It is politically-laden and may be perceived as controversial in public debates. Unlike evolution, another such topic, climate change has immediate and serious implications for contemporary human behaviors and practices. Thus, our interdisciplinary collaboration led to a deliberate educational focus on understanding and conveying scientific practices and an emphasis on not only what we know but also how we know it.

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