When asked if they are concerned about how climate change is taught in their school, a majority (60%) of science educators responding to NSTA’s online poll reported they were not. Most also reported students were skeptical of climate change and climate change education, compared to just more than half (54%) who reported the same of parents. Only 26% said their administrators had expressed skepticism about the subject.
Many educators report using the debate about climate change as an example of science’s mutable nature, how ideas can change as new data is gathered or uncovered. Several respondents—some skeptical of climate change, others not—noted the political polarization of climate change education and the effect on their teaching.
Here’s what science educators are saying:
[I] make it more of a debate and research the issues.
—Educator, High School, North Carolina
I teach that we are always evaluating and learning. Nothing is in stone…I teach both sides.
—Educator, Elementary, California
[I] try to listen carefully to what people are saying and make sure that I’m not just being reactive. Help them understand the data that are out there. Help them understand what the diverging opinions might be based on and how they come to be “accepted.”
—Educator, Middle School, High School, Connecticut
Other science teachers seem to avoid anything controversial…Not enough time in curriculum to really deal with this issue well. Plus, students are very opinionated and conservative here; believe whatever it is their parents believe.
—Educator, High School, Idaho
I have changed my curriculum to be more data- and experiment-driven and had the students make and present their personal claims and back them up with evidence.
—Educator, High School, Maine
I use data, [teach a] graphing lab that uses the actual data being collected on CO2 in the atmosphere. I show [the film] An Inconvenient Truth, which also uses the real data. I show a video that discusses the natural shifts through time, so that I address the non-[hu]man-made impacts. I continually focus on fossil fuel emissions in my energy unit and biochemical cycle unit.
—Educator, High School, Michigan
I have tried to produce scientific studies and evidence: I use it as an opportunity to talk about the types of understanding and knowledge that are possible.
—Educator, High School, North Carolina
I feel support from my students when I ask them to be skeptical about all science. I show them various references and ask them to make up their own mind as to whether humans are the cause of global warming.
—Educator, High School, Illinois
It is a complex issue that can only be taught if you explore with students the complexities; this takes time and more focused commitment than the typical 50-minute class period allows.
—Educator, Middle School, High School, Alaska
I’m concerned that parents will challenge the material that is included in my curriculum. I focus on having students examine data and draw their own conclusions.
—Educator, Middle School, Wisconsin
Need More Resources
It’s that it’s hard to argue against a position based on poor logic without getting into the specific data used to support different views. I could make use of a frequently updated, unbiased (but not overly cautious) resource that summarizes important climate change numbers (which I tend to forget), along with what exactly is faulty in the ongoing and new arguments made by those denying either climate change or people’s role in it. Links to actual data sets that I could bring up to show students, or ask them to look at, would help a lot...I also make sure that I tell all my classes how I deal with scientific uncertainty, conflicting information, and so on. In short, I am more careful and precise in how I present climate change information, and feel compelled to link our subject matter to it frequently to help students see the potential widespread consequences of ignoring the issue or taking ineffective action.
—Educator, Institution of Higher Learning, California
The challenge for me is to find for my students actual scientific data that they can evaluate for themselves, so they can better draw their own conclusions…I have significantly increased the amount of material I use in class to discuss climate change.
—Educator, High School, Nebraska
[The problems with teaching climate change are] making it understandable and not scary for elementary students.
—Educator, Elementary, New Mexico
Adding additional data sources; identifying and tackling misconceptions earlier in the learning process.
—Administrator, High School, New York
I believe that “climate change” education is used to indict western civilization of false[ly]-manufactured crimes. Most of what the general news media and the education establishment insist upon as true science is simply not. Also, the numerous incidents of researchers altering data and cherry-picking sensor locations in order to influence data have left the United Nations’ and other groups’ theories and claims discredited and untrustworthy.
—Other, Middle School, High School, Ohio
As an educator in the field of science for 10 years, I am myself still very skeptical...I see too many dollar signs involved in this indoctrination.
—Educator, Middle School, Oklahoma
Conservative bias against teaching the facts…Administrators roll over when parents object…Have to be very careful what I say.
—Educator, High School, California
I don’t think it is being discussed enough. Whether it is out of fear or ignorance, I don’t know…I’ve had a couple of parents complain that I was sharing my biased view. According to them, “global warming” isn’t caused by people. It is manufactured by the liberal media.
—Educator, Middle School, Michigan
Also there is no debate among scientists about the cause; the only “debate” is among the media and “scientists” working for the oil industry…The media lies.
—Educator, Middle School, Florida
I believe that some students are not learning the science behind climate change and therefore are not informed enough to understand the whole phenomenon. We still have science teachers—mainly elementary and middle school teachers—[who] don’t fully know how greenhouse gases affect the Earth’s climate.
—Educator, High School, Institution of Higher Learning, South Carolina
I am teaching my students that there is little to no evidence that climate change is [hu]manmade and that the reason that it is such a big deal is because of the money that is being exchanged in order for scientists to support the idea.
—Educator, Middle School, New York
Confronting inaccuracies and errors of fact head on. Informing students of the ideology driving many anti-[global warming] arguments, and encouraging the students to see a bigger picture of how public debate is influenced by interest groups.
—Educator, High School, Queensland, Australia
This topic is not discussed enough…The topic is seen as political rather than also scientific; because one vocal scientist who is not one of the “most” teaches at a university here, the opposition in the community is well supported.
—Educator, High School, Colorado
Poor science on the climate change and obvious falsification of data as shown in the “Climategate” memos...Present side-by-side presentations: Give Al Gore two days, and I do a counterpoint on one day.
—Educator, High School, Kansas
Politically based, not science based…students either believe [humans are] the evil-doer[s] of all that happens in this world, or they disbelieve in global warming.
—Educator, Middle School, California