Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 10:30 AM
LEARNING FROM EVIDENCE IN THE CONTEXT OF GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
Learning from scientific evidence is an important practice for environmental literacy. In the context of global climate change, this includes students being able to interpret and analyze data about variables such as temperature, precipitation, CO2 concentration, or water systems on local and global scales. We studied how students approach this challenge using data from interviews with 30 middle school and high school students. We asked them to construct evidence-based arguments about (a) data about the extent of Arctic Sea ice, or (b) how data collected at Mauna Loa relates to global carbon dioxide concentrations. We found that interpreting data can be particularly challenging when the data are highly variable and students often conflate patterns (up-down-up-down) with trends. In making arguments from evidence about climate change, students often confuse extent or severity of effect with the idea of overall directionality of a change. Students have difficulty understanding the Keeling Curve in terms of how measurements in Hawaii could be generalizable to other locations on the globe. Additionally, students have difficulty understanding how different mechanisms account for (a) the overall rise in carbon dioxide concentrations over 50 years due to combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation, and (b) and the annual changes in carbon dioxide due to changes in the amount of photosynthesis in the Northern hemisphere. Findings from this study represent an advance in understanding how students learn from evidence in the context of global climate change and will help us refine teaching tools about this issue. Our goal as global climate change educators is to prepare students to engage in an evidence-based deliberative process about this issue including what actions to take, individually and collectively, to mitigate and adapt to changes.