Northeastern Section (45th Annual) and Southeastern Section (59th Annual) Joint Meeting (13-16 March 2010)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 1:30 PM-4:15 PM


DORSCH, Al, Shenango Area School District, 2550 Ellwood Rd, New Castle, PA 16101, FURMAN, Tanya, Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, 333 Deike Building, University Park, PA 16802 and GUERTIN, Laura A., Earth Science, Penn State Brandywine, 25 Yearsley Mill Road, Media, PA 19063,

The study of climate change is important for middle school students, not only for the scientific content but also for its connections to human activities. Students polled annually from 2004-2008 demonstrated a clear deficit in their understanding of climate change. Most students understood the term global warming but there was widespread confusion as to the causal relationship between human activity and climate change. There was great confusion about the negligible role of ozone depletion in climate change; a majority of students thought that ozone depletion and global warming were the same phenomenon. In keeping with our Earth Systems focus, we sought a more scientific and thoughtful approach than that of traditional textbooks, which do not adequately address this issue from either scientific or societal perspectives. The recognition that humans can disrupt one of Earth’s major systems is essential for our survival and merits the best of teaching strategies. To engage students in learning about climate change and provide them ownership over their learning we introduced a differentiated instructional approach. Students chose to work as individuals or in teams on one of five projects connected with climate change. Project choices involve adult roles for the students, as employees of the Environmental Protection Agency or NOAA, as print/TV journalists in the year 2110, or as scientific researchers in the area of climate change. The classroom experience was very positive: students displayed some of the greatest creativity and responsibility that the lead author has seen in 14 years of teaching. An unexpected but welcome impact was the community learning, as students engaged their families in the projects for acting, recording newscasts and assisting in research. Feedback from parents was generally positive, although some are resistant to the idea of global warming as a scientific reality. When resistance surfaced regarding the validity of climate change, we explained that this activity was a research project and students were to seek scientific data, not to justify what one thinks may be the truth. This emphasis on research was new to the students, and is an important aspect of the project. With this differentiated approach, the instructor saw a marked improvement in student content knowledge and enthusiasm for learning.