Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 9:30 AM


KIRK, Karin B., Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, Northfield, MN 55057, SULLIVAN, Susan B., CIRES Education and Outreach, University of Colorado, Research Laboratory 2, UCB 449, 1540 30th St, Boulder, CO 80309-0449 and COOK, John, Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, Level 7, Gehrmann Laboratories (60), Research Rd, St Lucia, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia,

Controversial scientific issues are often closely tied to public policy, thus it is essential that educators respond with effective pedagogy for teaching controversy and strive to create a scientifically literate population. To this end, the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN) convened a workshop, Communicating Climate Science in the Classroom, to explore practices for communicating climate science and policy and to provide strategies for improving student understanding of this complex and sensitive topic.

Workshop presentations featured public opinion research on Americans’ perceptions of climate change, tactics for identifying and resolving student misconceptions, and methods to address various “backfire effects” that can result from attempts to correct misinformation. A central theme of the presentations was that students do not process new information in a uniform way. New ideas are actively interpreted according to the existing knowledge and values of the listener. Thus it is critical to know your audience and seek a pathway that encourages cognitive change. Misconceptions can be largely cognitive such as a misunderstanding of the role of the ozone layer; or they can be intertwined with one’s worldview, such as the degree of anthropogenic forcing in the climate system. By identifying the underlying cause of a student’s misunderstanding, educators will be more effective at addressing it.

Some key pedagogic strategies emerged throughout the workshop. Simple tactics like acknowledging the value in a person’s question can help prevent a breakdown in communication. Providing concise, clear explanations is paramount, even if the underlying science is complex. Here, analogies can be powerful teaching tools and can translate complex ideas in a memorable way. Similarly, compelling visuals can portray volumes of information at a glance. Active learning techniques such as role playing, working with data, or using local representations of global problems allow students to construct knowledge for themselves.

Activities from the workshop are archived on the CLEAN website, including the presentations and materials created at the workshop. For more information, visit the workshop website at