Education ForumScience Education

Climate confusion among U.S. teachers

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Science  12 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6274, pp. 664-665
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3907

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  • The Importance of Attending to the Disciplinary Expertise of Science Teachers
    • Elizabeth Lewis, Associate Professor, Science Education, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

    Global climate change is a complex phenomenon occurring among several interacting Earth systems and takes expertise and time to teach well. Furthermore, climate change is difficult to learn without understanding each individual Earth system, but students can succeed by learning about the geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and our place in space. Plutzer, et al (2/12/16) surveyed variously-certified science teachers’ understanding, perspectives toward and teaching of climate change. This type of survey yielded useful information, but the authors did not disaggregate their data by teachers’ qualifications nor connect to the historical and current problems of Earth and space science (ESS) education. High school ESS education has been the most marginalized scientific domain; only 25% of students take ESS nationally. There has also been a perennial need for more highly-qualified ESS teachers. At the state level, specific science coursework is required for biology, chemistry, ESS and physics teaching endorsements. The number of ESS teachers (n=15,611) falls far short of the number of biology teachers (n=52,697; who teach 88% of all high school students), and this count is most likely an overestimate, as it, too, is a tally of teaching assignments, not qualifications.
    Plutzer, et al revealed that teachers did not spend more than 1-2 hours teaching climate change. Because many teachers end up teaching ESS content out-of-field, it is methodologically prob...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • A Teacher's Perspective
    • Cheryl Manning, President-Elect, National Earth Science Teachers Association

    This article clearly outlines a significant problem: nationwide, teachers do not understand climate change science, are teaching misconceptions, and are not digging deeply enough into the greatest ecological, economic, and societal problem of our time. As a result, students are not learning what they need to know to make good decisions. While this is disheartening news, there are teachers and teacher communities that are teaching climate change effectively.

    As a high school science teacher, climate change science has been a part of my science curriculum for over 15 years. In that time, I have been threatened by parents, challenged by administrators, and had my “politics” questioned by other science teachers. I have relied on my ongoing education with the community of scientists and science education professionals I am fortunate to be a part. With their help, climate change has become a theme threading though each of my three courses: Earth and Space Science, AP Environmental Science, and Honors Chemistry.

    It has taken years to get my teammates on board but now we meet regularly to find the links between climate change and all science curricula. Together, we find a variety of approaches to teach the physics and chemistry of climate change, the impact of climate change on ecosystems and biogeochemical cycling, and the fundamentals of climate dynamics in Earth and Environmental sciences.

    Teachers are challenged not only by public perspective of climate...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Climate confusion among U.S. teachers

    Open letter, concerning NPR report citing this Nature Education Forum article:

    I’m fully confident that together we can do a good service for NPR’s listeners. This is in specific regard to the article Why Science Teachers Are Struggling With Climate Change that was broadcast on February 19. I assume you may have already received much correspondence about that article, and I trust you will eventually have the opportunity to read this. The article ought to be considered by NPR for correction and ought to offer an opportunity for Eric Plutzer, whose study is cited, to make clarifications of how those citations were conveyed, and to see why this is the case, a handful of points are offered here.

    Scientific Method requires the practice of repeatable, controlled experimentation among a great many other facets.

    Conjecture plays an indispensable role in applying science toward the realities of human experience: leadership, education, engineering, justice, commerce/trade, etc.

    Unfortunately, the article did not distinguish between the two, and it overreached by attempting to degrade or discredit science teachers who do properly distinguish. Such overreach is not in NPR’s or in any news source’s best interest, nor is it in the best interest of news consumers.

    The article states “...roughly 95 percent of climate scientists believe global warming is happening and that humans are to blame.” The article also states “Well, roughly 30 percent tell s...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Climate confusion among U.S. teachers
    • Henry Robinson, retired meteorologist/physicist, American Meteorological Society

    As a person who has taught junior high through graduate students and in-service professionals, I do not feel it is the job of the science teacher to assign blame to any part of society. Two hours of instruction is generally sufficient to cover the basics of global warming, the increasing amounts of greenhouse gasses, the theory behind the radiation scattering of infrared energy, the basic chemistry of combustion and possibly past climates including ice ball earth.

    The problem facing humanity is not who was/is to blame for the increase but what will we do, if anything, about it. That is more in the realm of the politicians who are practiced in assigning blame, the economists who will try to figure the possible outcomes of different scenarios and the farmers and other business people who must work out how best to adapt to the changes.

    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Climate confusion among U.S. teachers

    The graphic on p. 664 distorts teachers' perceptions of climate change. It uses an area representation for a fundamentally length measurement. For example, 5% of teachers "avoid" the issue of climate change while 10% teachers "deny" it. Using squares with sides proportional to the teachers' views---the "avoid" side is twice the length of the "deny" side---the graphic gives the visual impression that 4 times as many teacher deny versus avoid climate change in science classes. This a classic misrepresentation of data described by Wainer (1984) in "How to Display Data Badly" The American Statistician, 38(2): 137-147. The appropriate display of data is essential for public communication of science issues.

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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