Bringing climate scientist’s tools into classrooms to improve conceptual understandings

  • Drew BushEmail author
  • Renee Sieber
  • Gale Seiler
  • Mark Chandler
  • Gail L. Chmura


Efforts to address anthropogenic global climate change (AGCC) require public understanding of Earth and climate science. To meet this need, educational reforms and prominent scientists have called for instructional approaches that teach students how climate scientists examine AGCC. Yet, only a few educational studies have reported clear empirical results on what instructional approaches and climate education technologies best accomplish this goal. This manuscript presents detailed analysis and statistically significant results on the educational impact pre to post of students learning to use a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) global climate model (GCM). This series of case studies demonstrates that differing instructional approaches and climate education technologies result in differing levels of understanding of AGCC and ability to engage with policies addressing it. Students who learned the scientific process of climate modeling scored significantly higher pre to post on exams (quantitatively) and gained more complete conceptual understandings of the issue (qualitatively). Yet, teaching students to conduct research with complex technology can be difficult. This study also found lecture-based learning better improved recall of facts about GCMs tested by multiple-choice questions. Our findings indicate what educational systems and related technologies might provide the public with the conceptual understandings necessary to engage in the political debate over AGCC.


Public understanding Climate change Global climate models Education 



This research was supported by a McGill University Richard H. Tomlinson Fellowship in University Science Teaching.

Transparency statement

Results from the ANCOVA statistical test described in figure caption one have previously been reported in: Bush D, Sieber R, Seiler G & Chandler M (2017) Examining educational climate change technology: How group inquiry work with realistic scientific technology alters classroom learning. J Sci Educ and Technol 1–18. All other findings, text, research instruments, figures and tables are original and have not been reported on in any other publications. In particular, this work expands on our previous publication through an examination of previously unreported research instruments, findings and conclusions. It focuses on the literature, methods, results and implications of interest to the broader audience represented by the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences that includes environment, Earth and climate scientists.

Software used to make figures

All figures were made using IBM SPSS Statistics (Version 20.0.0) and Microsoft PowerPoint for Mac 2011 (Version 14.3.4).

Supplementary material

13412_2018_525_MOESM1_ESM.docx (325 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 325 kb)


  1. Baird J, Plummer R, Haug C, Huitema D (2014) Learning effects of interactive decision-making processes for climate change adaptation. Glob Environ Chang 27(1):51–63Google Scholar
  2. Bishop BA, Anderson CW (1990) Student conceptions of natural selection and its role in evolution. J Res Sci Teach 27(5):415–427Google Scholar
  3. Bord RJ, O’Connor RE, Fisher A (2000) In what sense does the public need to understand global climate change? Public Underst Sci 9(3):205–218Google Scholar
  4. Buddington A, Stone G, Chandler M, Linneman A (2009) Position statement: Teaching climate change. National Association of Geoscience Teachers. Accessed 11 January 2018
  5. Bush D, Sieber R, Seiler G, Chandler M (2016) The teaching of anthropogenic climate change and Earth science via technology-enabled inquiry education. J Geosci Educ 64(3):159–174Google Scholar
  6. Butler DM, Macgregor ID (2003) Globe: science and education. J Geosci Educ 51(1):9–20Google Scholar
  7. Chabay I (2015) Responding to challenges of rapid global change by strengthening local STEM education. In: Renn O, Karafyllis KC, Hohlt A, Taube D (eds) International science and technology education: exploring culture, economy and social perceptions. Routledge, New York, pp 230–237Google Scholar
  8. Chandler MA, Richards SJ, Shopsin MJ (2005) EdGCM: enhancing climate science education through climate modeling research projects. Paper presented at The 85th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society: 14th Symposium on Education, San Diego, CAGoogle Scholar
  9. Cooper CB (2011) Media literacy as a key strategy toward improving public acceptance of climate change science. BioScience 61(3):231–237Google Scholar
  10. Cox H, Kelly K, Yetter L (2014) Using remote sensing geospatial technology for climate change education. J Geosci Educ 62(4):609–620Google Scholar
  11. Doering A, Veletsianos G (2008) An investigation of the use of real-time, authentic geospatial data in the K–12 classroom. J Geogr 106(6):217–225Google Scholar
  12. Funk C, Rainie L (2015) Public and scientists’ views on science and society. Pew Res Center 29:1–112Google Scholar
  13. Furtak EM, Seidel T, Iverson H, Briggs DC (2012) Experimental and quasi-experimental studies of inquiry-based science teaching: a meta-analysis. Rev Educ Res 82(3):300–329Google Scholar
  14. Gautier C, Solomon R (2005) A preliminary study of students’ asking quantitative scientific questions for inquiry-based climate model experiments. J Geosci Educ 53(4):432–443Google Scholar
  15. Gold AU, Oonk DJ, Smith L, Boykoff MT, Osnes B, Sullivan SB (2015) Lens on climate change: making climate meaningful through student-produced videos. J Geogr 114(6):235–246Google Scholar
  16. Hansen J, Russell G, Rind D, Stone P, Lacis A, Lebedeff S, Ruedy R, Travis L (1983) Efficient three-dimensional global models for climate studies: models I and II. Mon Weather Rev 111(4):609–662Google Scholar
  17. IPCC (2014) Summary for policymakers. In: Field CB, Barros VR, Dokken DJ, Mach KJ, Mastrandrea MD, Bilir TE, Chatterjee M, Ebi KL, Estrada YO, Genova RC, Girma B, Kissel ES, Levy AN, MacCracken S, Mastrandrea PR, White LL (eds) Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 1–32Google Scholar
  18. Johnson B, Christensen L (2008) Educational research: quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
  19. Kahan DM, Jenkins-Smith H, Braman D (2011) Cultural cognition of scientific consensus. J Risk Res 14:147–174Google Scholar
  20. Kahan DM, Peters E, Wittlin M, Slovic P, Ouellette LL, Braman D, Mandel G (2012) The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nat Clim Chang 2(10):732–735Google Scholar
  21. Klahr D (2013) What do we mean? On the importance of not abandoning scientific rigor when talking about science education. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110(Supplement 3):14075–14080Google Scholar
  22. Krathwohl DR (2002) A revision of bloom’s taxonomy. Theory Pract 41(4):212–219Google Scholar
  23. Lahti D (2013) Does attainment of Piaget’s formal operational level of cognitive development predict student understanding of scientific models. Dissertation, University of MontanaGoogle Scholar
  24. Ledley TS, Dahlman L, McAuliffe C, Haddad N, Taber MR, Domenico B, Lynds S, Grogan M (2011) Making earth science data accessible and usable in education. Science 333(6501):1838–1839Google Scholar
  25. Leiserowitz A, Smith N, Marlon JR (2010) Americans’ knowledge of climate change. Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  26. Leiserowitz A, Maibach E, Roser-Renouf C, Hmielowski JD (2011) Politics and global warming: Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and the Tea Party, Yale University and George Mason University. Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  27. Lewandowsky S, Ecker UKH, Seifert CM, Schwarz N, Cook J (2012) Misinformation and its correction. Psychol Sci Public Interest 13(3):106–131Google Scholar
  28. Liverman D, Raven P, Barstow D (2010) Informing an effective response to climate change. National Research Council, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  29. Maibach E, Roser-Renouf C, Leiserowitz A (2009) Global warming’s six Americas 2009: an audience segmentation analysis. Yale University and George Mason University, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  30. Mao SL, Chang CY (1998) Impacts of an inquiry teaching method on earth science students’ learning outcomes and attitudes at the secondary school level. Proc Natl Sci Council China 8(3):93–101Google Scholar
  31. McCright AM (2012) Enhancing students’ scientific and quantitative literacies through an inquiry-based learning project on climate change. J Scholarship Teach Learn 12(4):86–101Google Scholar
  32. McCright AM, Dunlap RE (2011) The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010. Sociol Q 52(2):155–194Google Scholar
  33. McCright AM, O’Shea BW, Sweeder RD, Urquhart GR, Zeleke A (2013) Promoting interdisciplinarity through climate change education. Nat Clim Chang 3(8):713–716Google Scholar
  34. Mitchell RB, Weiler CS (2011) Developing next-generation climate change scholars: the DISCCRS experience. J Environ Stud Sci 1(1):54–62Google Scholar
  35. National Research Council (1996) National science education standards. National Academies Press, Washington DC, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  36. NGSS Lead States (2013) Next generation science standards: for states, by states. The National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  37. Nunnally J (1978) Psychometric theory. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  38. Olejnik SF (1984) Planning educational research: determining the necessary sample size. J Exp Educ 53(1):40–48Google Scholar
  39. Olson S, Loucks-Horsley S (eds) (2000) Inquiry and the national science education standards: a guide for teaching and learning. National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  40. Pandya R, Charlevoix D, Cordero E, Smith D, Yald S (2012) Trends in the AMS education symposium and highlights from 2012. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 93(12):39–41Google Scholar
  41. Perkins JH, Middlecamp C, Blockstein D, Cole JR, Knapp RH, Saul KM, Vincent S (2014) Energy education and the dilemma of mitigating climate change. J Environ Stud Sci 4(4):354–359Google Scholar
  42. Pidgeon NF, Fischhoff B (2011) The role of social and decision sciences in communicating uncertain climate risks. Nat Clim Chang 1(1):35–41Google Scholar
  43. Plutzer E, McCaffrey M, Hannah AL, Rosenau J, Berbeco M, Reid AH (2016) Climate confusion among US teachers. Science 351(6274):664–665Google Scholar
  44. Rakow SJ (1986) Teaching science as inquiry: fastback 246. Phi Delta, BloomingtonGoogle Scholar
  45. Rooney-Varga JN, Brisk AA, Adams E, Shuldman M, Rath K (2014) Student media production to meet challenges in climate change science education. J Geosci Educ 62(4):598–608Google Scholar
  46. Schmidt G, Wolfe J (2009) Climate change: picturing the science. W.W. Norton and Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  47. Schroeder CM, Scott TP, Tolson H, Huang T, Lee Y (2007) A meta-analysis of national research: effects of teaching strategies on student achievement in science in the United States. J Res Sci Teach 44(10):1436–1460Google Scholar
  48. Sohl LE, Chandler MA, Zhou J (2013) Meeting the Next Generation Science Standards through “rediscovered” climate model experiments. Paper presented at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, San Francisco, CAGoogle Scholar
  49. Sorensen AE, Jordan RC, Shwom R, Ebert-May D, Isenhour C, McCright AM, Robinson JM (2016) Model-based reasoning to foster environmental and socio-scientific literacy in higher education. J Environ Stud Sci 6(2):287–294Google Scholar
  50. Sterman JD (2008) Risk communication on climate: mental models and mass balance. Science 322(5901):532–533Google Scholar
  51. Sterman JD, Sweeney LB (2002) Cloudy skies: assessing public understanding of global warming. Syst Dyn Rev 18(2):207–240Google Scholar
  52. Sterman J, Franck T, Fiddaman T, Jones A, McCauley S, Rice P, Sawin E, Siegel L, Rooney-Varga JN (2015) World climate: a role-play simulation of climate negotiations. Simul Games 46(3–4):348–382Google Scholar
  53. Stern PC (2016) Sociology: impacts on climate change views. Nat Clim Chang 6(4):341–342Google Scholar
  54. Weber EU, Stern PC (2011) Public understanding of climate change in the United States. Am Psychol 66(4):315–328Google Scholar

Copyright information

© AESS 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.McGill School of EnvironmentMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.School of EducationIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  4. 4.Center for Climate Systems ResearchColumbia University, NASA-GISSNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations