Model-based reasoning to foster environmental and socio-scientific literacy in higher education

  • Amanda E. Sorensen
  • Rebecca C. Jordan
  • Rachel Shwom
  • Diane Ebert-May
  • Cindy Isenhour
  • Aaron M. McCright
  • Jennifer Meta Robinson


The American public’s environmental, scientific, and civic literacies are generally low. While environmental science courses often recognize the human dimensions of environmental problems and solutions, they typically treat such phenomena as matters of opinion and rarely engage with social scientific ways of knowing. Recently, there has been a push in higher education to advance broader scientific literacy, but little attention has been paid to helping students gain an understanding of how socio-scientific evidence and claims are generated. Our work here aims to develop the knowledge framework that facilitates the integration of knowledge across biophysical and social science domains. In this research brief, we report on a project in which an interdisciplinary team developed a model of climate adaptation and mitigation to help teach undergraduates about the coupled human-climate system. The research team found this process to be integral to both thinking and learning about a system with biophysical and social variables. This project is unique in that we then used this model to develop not just curricula but also a framework that can be used to guide and assess interdisciplinary instruction at the collegiate level. This framework allows learners to make sense of complex socio-environmental issues and reason with scientific information from the social and biophysical sciences.


Environmental Literacy Climate Change Modeling Socio-scientific Science education 



We would like to acknowledge the Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center in Annapolis, Maryland for hosting and facilitating this work under the Learning across Natural and Social Sciences pursuit.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amanda E. Sorensen
    • 1
  • Rebecca C. Jordan
    • 2
  • Rachel Shwom
    • 2
  • Diane Ebert-May
    • 3
  • Cindy Isenhour
    • 4
  • Aaron M. McCright
    • 5
  • Jennifer Meta Robinson
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural ResourcesRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human EcologyRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA
  3. 3.Department of Plant BiologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  4. 4.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of MaineOronoUSA
  5. 5.Department of SociologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  6. 6.Department of Communication and CultureIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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