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Countering Climate Confusion
To convey key climate change concepts effectively, it is vital to be aware of fundamental misconceptions about climate, which are widespread. According to a 2011 report from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 46% of adults, and 54% of teenagers, in the United States would not receive a passing grade if quizzed on the basics of climate. Yet at least 60% of adults, and 50% of teenagers, thought that they were “fairly well informed” or “very well informed” on the topic.
Here are a few examples of common misconceptions relevant to climate science that science teachers may encounter in their students:
Research has found (and the experience of many teachers will confirm) that such misconceptions are not easily dislodged. When introducing a new scientific concept, teachers should first:
Teachers then need to provide learning situations that will enable their students to replace their misconceptions with the correct understanding of the scientific concept. In these situations, students are required to apply the concept in thinking about how to answer a question or solve a problem, ideally one with clear real-world relevance. The students are thus given the opportunity to test the usefulness of their prior conceptions and compare them to the usefulness of the correct understanding of the concept.
There are various teaching methods that help to dislodge student misconceptions — often involving visualizations, interactions, or laboratory activities — and teachers may differ in their preferences and abilities to use them. But research indicates that, for topics where misconceptions are prevalent and profound, teaching by rote and multiple-choice testing is not effective in ensuring that students retain what they have learned in their science classes. So the use of effective teaching methods aimed specifically at helping students attain the correct understanding of scientific concepts is especially necessary in teaching about climate change.
The links in Resources for Teaching and Learning about Climate Change provide more information especially useful for educators. Or continue to the next section, and find out how to go about addressing doubt and denial in the classroom.
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