Andy Anderson began the closing discussion with a reminder of the elements of an effective national response to climate change that were articulated in America’s Climate Choices: enacting policies and programs that reduce risk by limiting the causes of climate change and reducing vulnerability to its impacts. In his view, what this means, is that, as a nation, the United States will need to consider when and how to forgo current consumption in the interest of future well-being.1America’s Climate Choices, he noted, “is saying that we’re in this for the long haul, and we need to think about how we are going to create and sustain the cultural changes that we will need in order to respond appropriately to climate change.” He identified four primary challenges in providing the nation’s youth with education to sustain this appropriate response, drawing on the presentations and discussion from throughout the workshop.
Challenge 1: Preparing for sustained efforts in the nation and in formal schooling. Brian Reiser discussed the importance of learning progressions as a basis for the framework for the new national standards, Anderson noted. This is key because “the things that we would like kids to learn they are not going to learn in a day or a week or a year. We have to think
1The conversation about the role of advocacy vs. education recurred during the conference and is addressed explicitly in Chapter 4.
about how we are going to have a sustained response in our schools to the learning issues that kids face.” Yet earth science, the location in the framework for the new national standards on climate change, “is increasingly being driven out of high schools,” Anderson noted. This raises the question of how the current structure of schools and curricula—and a teaching force that has not, in general, had the education necessary to teach effectively about climate change—will support the kind of sustained response that is needed.
Challenge 2: Finding the proper role of formal schooling in the national response. The workshop provided a variety of messages about the role of formal schooling, Anderson noted, which can have quite different implications. First, Daniel Edelson proposed a definition of geo-literacy that encompasses elements that fit within the traditional science curriculum (although he placed greater emphasis on human systems reasoning than the traditional science curriculum has), but also includes decision making, which has not had a place in the science curriculum. Thomas Marcinkowski offered another conception of what might go into the school curriculum, incorporating both traditional aspects (knowledge, cognitive skills, and competencies) and something new, in this case dispositions and behavior.
There was a lot of discussion, Anderson noted, about the degree to which these ideas present a significant challenge to science education as it is now configured. Core ideas are the guiding structures of current frameworks, but they are generally taught as a list rather than as an integrated set of ideas, he noted. Currently missing, in his view, are the crosscutting concepts and the related practices. Eddie Boyes, in turn, identified the “zone between the things nobody will do and the things everybody will do as the natural place where education can be effective—suggesting that that’s what schools should focus on.” While these ideas may converge, they do not at present suggest a complete consensus about the conception of or priorities for climate change education, Anderson remarked.
Anderson’s own research has looked at how young people decide what the truth is about a situation they are considering, and he has found that they usually make use of personal and family knowledge, as well as ideas from media and popular culture. “They often make judgments about bias and self-interest in people and in organizations making the claims—they are often pretty perceptive about why you would not trust a particular person or group,” he added. They rarely make use of knowledge they learned in school, he noted, or make explicit judgments about the scientific quality of evidence or arguments. Anderson finds this very troubling—and a real challenge to schools—noting that dialogue can take place only if people “understand when the people that they don’t like
and don’t trust are still making a good argument.” This point relates to Challenge 3.
Challenge 3: Thinking about the role of values in an issue about which passions run high. There are several reasons why conflicting values seem to be fueling passions in the discussion of climate change, in Anderson’s view. First, there is a marked culture gap between scientists and the public. Climate scientists have been polled, he pointed out, about whether they agree that climate change is happening, and consistently more than 95 percent of them agree that it is. Yet only 13 percent of the public believes that more than 80 percent of scientists believe that global climate change is happening, Anderson observed. That 13 percent includes people from across the spectrum, he added: those who are alarmed or concerned about climate change as well as those who are dismissive.
“There’s just this huge difference between what scientists believe and what the public believes that scientists believe,” he commented. At the same time, many science teachers believe they should teach both sides of the climate change issue, although “in the opinion of scientists there are not two sides—there is a set of established scientific findings,” he added.
This gap probably reflects differences in the ways scientists and nonscientists think about uncertainty, he suggested. Scientists have developed particular ways of dealing with uncertainty, he observed. They recognize that it is never entirely absent, and that they can never know that they have found absolute truth, but there are methods they use to reduce the uncertainty about the claims they make. For scientists, authority does not rest with individual people but stems from arguments based on evidence. “You don’t trust somebody because he or she is smart or well positioned,” he explained, “you say, ‘what’s the evidence?’” Scientists rely on rigor and research methods and on collective validation, peer review, and other ways of achieving consensus in the scientific community.
“These are values,” noted Anderson. Scientists believe in and live by them, and face severe sanctions if they fail to do so. “That’s why scientists trust reports like America’s Climate Choices and others,” he added. “They can’t imagine the scientists who contribute to those reports violating those values in a systematic way.”
These scientific values need to be taken into account, he added, in discussions of interdisciplinary climate change education. Many at the workshop advocated interdisciplinary approaches, but, he suggested, the disciplines are where those values reside. Scientists have developed their understanding of what rigor, evidence, and collective validation mean in the context of their fields of study. “We need to break down barriers,” Anderson observed, “but if we abandon the standards and values that make science important, have we given up the baby with the bathwater?”
It is an important function of education, he added, to teach students
to understand those values and recognize that scientists are passionate about them. “These are things that people argue about and get angry about and stake their careers on,” he observed. The barriers between, for example, scientists and engineers remain, he added. The interdisciplinary work is not necessarily happening at the faculty level. “When and how do the engineers and the scientists and the people in the humanities come to talk about policies and strategies?” Anderson asked.
Challenge 4: Using what we learn from research and innovation. The programs described at the workshop do demonstrate many ways of engaging students across disciplines, Anderson noted. Curricula and programs were examples of ways to connect social, political, and economic issues to science. Others demonstrated ways of engaging many different people. The Alliance for Climate Education, for example, engages high school students who may be more interested in Lady Gaga than in climate science, and Redmond High School engages students through vocational courses focused on green technology and the building trades.
During the final session of the workshop, presenters, panelists, steering committee members, and attendees discussed themes and issues that emerged. Workshop participants provided comments and engaged in discussion, followed by closing remarks by James Mahoney, Climate Change Education Roundtable chair, and Martin Storksdieck, director of the Board on Science Education and of the Climate Change Education Roundtable. This section is organized around the major themes that emerged during this discussion.
The Context of Climate Change Education
Several participants favored the idea that the study of climate change should be encompassed in a much broader earth systems curriculum and indeed should be a presence across the curriculum. James Geringer returned to the challenge Edelson had raised at the beginning of the workshop—should there be climate change education at all? From Geringer’s perspective, it is not possible to teach climate change in isolation, because if it is isolated from an understanding of the bigger picture, people do not recognize how climate change can affect their lives. He emphasized that “if you understand the fundamental principles, such as natural variability, natural cycles, your understanding of climate change will come as a result.” Geringer also highlighted the importance of teaching kids about scientific uncertainty and risk management, adding that “in many of our educational processes the students want to know is this
yes or no.… It’s only later in life they discover there are many answers.” He added that students need to be taught to reason and ask questions in a way that helps them better understand the world.
Participants considered how climate change education could be positioned in K-14, wondering whether it is a great example of how to teach other disciplines in an integrated cross-disciplinary way, or a core science issue that should be taught on its own.
National and State Standards
Louisa Koch explained that she is very supportive of the new science framework, because it is very important to take a national approach to climate change education. The new framework and standards, one participant pointed out, build students’ awareness and sophistication level gradually, “to the point where reasoning can come to bear and questioning can be pertinent.” Michael Town stressed the role of states in promoting and sustaining environmental and climate change education. In Washington, he noted, they have implemented state standards and programs that support sustainability education—creating a position in the office of the superintendent, an endorsement for teachers who specialize in environmental sustainability, an environmental literacy plan, and classes that prepare noncollege-bound students with job skills for the green economy. He added that it will be very important to identify replicable and scalable programs that have successful track records and export them to other places around the country.
Participants also focused on communication issues. “We’re overlooking a lot of people who are just uneasy with being told ‘this is happening, so do something about it,’” noted Geringer. He suggested that one reason why so many people are confused about climate change is that they have not been taught how to reason and to ask questions. One participant noted that although there are not really two sides to the issue of climate change, scientists do have differences. For example, some focus on data from the past 30 years, whereas others look back 50 years, and these frames of reference may lead to moderately different assessments. It is important to teach students that there are different ways to assess and evaluate information that are equally consistent with the scientific method, this person added. Doing so, several others observed, will also be a way of “humanizing” scientists, helping people understand what it is they do and how they reach their conclusions.
Several participants emphasized the importance of developing trust
between the scientific community and the public, noting the need for scientists to engage in more communication. Anderson elaborated on this point, noting that scientists are often seen only as doing individual work and have not been very successful in communicating that science is most often done as a community. Other participants emphasized the importance of telling stories that build a narrative so that students can connect with the issues. This can be accomplished through developing collaborations with such disciplines as art and history and approaching climate change through such issues as energy and health. As one participant suggested, “give kids a sense of where they’re coming from, where they are, and where they can go and the real possibilities that apply out there.”
Tamara Ledley emphasized the importance of creating bridges across different levels of learning and highlighted the importance of teaching students to communicate what they learn. She cited as an example a program at Dartmouth College that integrates learning at the high school and undergraduate levels and teaches students to bring what they learned to the broader community. She added that by reaching out to a wider audience, the program had the added benefit of making the information relevant to students at a personal level.
Lynn Elfner (Ohio Academy of Science) observed that an important goal is to prepare people to understand climate change issues so that they will take action, and that is why an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach is important. Although it is essential to master a single discipline, he added, people need to understand how to use science for solving problems and making good decisions about real-world issues. Carol Brewer emphasized the need to “create partnerships to blaze the transdisciplinary trail and also to broaden one’s own knowledge to be conversant beyond your individual expertise.” She stressed that a starting point could be that “in our own classrooms we have to be brave enough, regardless of how our universities or schools are organized, to find a colleague to teach with.” In searching for those partners, she emphasized, teachers can look to fill gaps in their own knowledge and improve their teaching.
Jill Karsten (National Science Foundation) pointed out that the current Climate Change Education Partnership Program at the National Science Foundation is designed to foster the development of partnerships among climate scientists, learning researchers, and education practitioners. The projects funded through this program also reach out to stakeholders in the
communities in an effort to align the needs and efforts of the broader community, with the goal of creating sustained engagement in the programs.
Koch sees the desired end point of climate change education as addressing the issue of sustainability, which requires that people understand the magnitude of the problem and also change behavior, but she cautioned that most people may never understand the depth of the science. She also sees the need to go beyond the physical, natural, and social sciences to reach people in order to make progress on these issues.
James Mahoney provided closing comments and some thoughts for the future. He pointed to two ideas that came into focus over the two-day discussions: content and values. There was a lot of discussion of the quantity and quality of information at different levels of education. His experience working in the federal government on issues related to acid rain, which, he noted, were similar in some cases to those associated with climate change education, showed him that people working in different areas of research often did not communicate with those outside their area of expertise. He added that this resulted in a poor foundation to “carry the problem through, end-to-end.”
Mahoney pointed out that for those teaching climate science and climate change, there is already a large body of work available that, by its nature, is even-handed and transparent and is not focused on advocacy. These resources are designed to give teachers the context in which to teach climate issues, address uncertainties, identify good information, and set appropriate frameworks. He stressed that although this information is not the “last word,” it is a very useful resource.
Mahoney closed with a consideration of how society values science: “Do we value [science] as something which really is aimed to give us the best possible answers, albeit uncertain? Do we value science as simply a debating tool?” The issue, from his perspective, is to bring along students, from middle school to college, to an understanding of science as a tool that allows them to better understand earth systems. The concept of uncertainty is at the center of the discussion, he added, but healthy skepticism is not a reason for dismissing science. He emphasized that the goal is to help students understand that scientists strive to get the science and measurements right to the best of their ability, not because they expect to establish the final word on a subject but as part of a process of expanding understanding and reducing uncertainty.
Martin Storksdieck thanked the participants for the rich discussion at the workshop. He emphasized that the goal of the workshop was not
to come to conclusions, but to ask and explore complex questions that do not have absolute or clear and easy solutions. Climate change and climate change education raise many complex questions, he added, and the presenters and participants generated a wealth of ideas and possible answers that will be useful in a continued discussion on how to best address the issue of climate change in formal education, K-14.