Surveys of both student and teacher opinions indicate that although climate change is an important global concern, only a small fraction can accurately articulate the basic science of climate change. While the scientific base of knowledge about climate change is growing, improvements in student understanding are clearly needed. An attempt to improve student and teacher understanding of climate change through the following activities:
1. Conduct a detailed study that identifies student misconceptions about climate change.
2. Develop effective climate change learning tools using inquiry-based learning environment.
3. Develop a summer institute to assist and encourage high school teachers to implement climate change subjects into their classrooms.
This work is currently being conducted as part of the project: Connections between Stratospheric Perturbations and Climate Change - Research and Teaching Integration, supported by the NSF Early Career Program. (More info)
Agenda, questionnaire and activity resources (PDF)
Greenhouse effect (PDF)
Natural climate change (PDF)
20th century climate (PDF)
21st century climate (PDF)
Global warming connections (PDF)
While working in Australia, I identified some unique misconceptions that students have about ozone depletion. Because Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, an appreciation for sun safety (i.e. using sunscreen, staying out of the sun during the middle of the day etc.) has been thoroughly communicated through public education. However interestingly, when asked why Australia has such concerns about skin cancer, a large majority of students (and I believe the general public as well) blame the Antarctic ozone hole (Cordero, 2001) for their problems. As shown below, the Antarctic ozone hole never really comes even close to the borders of Australia. The more convincing explanation of Australia high incidence of skin cancer is related to skin type, and the historical migration of a light-skinned population from northern Europe to a natural high sunlight environment. Evidence that Australia is a natural high sunlight environment can be found by looking at the skin color of the indigenous population (e.g. Aboriginal Australians), which has had thousands of year to adapt.
In response to the above misconceptions, I developed a module on ozone depletion aimed to help improve the teaching of ozone depletion in K-12 schools. An important component to this work is focused on educating teachers. Environmental issues are often complex and changing rapidly, and thus teachers often lack the resources required to effectively teaching these subjects. Included in this module are four powerpoint files, explaining the basics of ozone depletion. In addition, there are four activities aimed at challenging student misconceptions using active learning methodologies.
Cordero, E. C., 2002: Is the ozone hole over your classroom? Aust. Sci. Teach. J. 48, 24-39. (PDF)
Cordero, E. C., 2000: Misconceptions in Australian students understanding of ozone depletion. Melbourne Studies in Education, 41, 85-97. (PDF)