Refer to Next Generation Science Standards
Consider elaborating on work across 5 strands that covers K-6 as well as middle and high school
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Authors: Cinzia Cervato, Iowa State University; Donna Charlevoix, UNAVCO; Anne Gold, University of Colorado at Boulder; and Hari Kandel, SUNY College at Oneonta
At the interface between atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere, this theme covers content that is societally crucial but publicly controversial and fraught by misconceptions and misinformation (Fig. 1).
Our planet is experiencing hazardous natural events of a magnitude and at a rate not recorded before, like the series of very powerful hurricanes that made an unprecedented number of landfalls in August and September 2017, bringing flooding and destruction to much of the southern U.S. and Caribbean regions (Figure 2), and persisting drought conditions in the West that generated widespread wildfires affecting the air quality of a large portion of the continent (Figure 3). Climate science is an interdisciplinary discipline that straddles the natural and social sciences: understanding its processes requires system-thinking, understanding of mathematical models, and appreciation of its human and societal components.
We have identified five Grand Challenges to the conceptual understanding of this content and its significance, and proposed strategies for the geoscience education research community.
Misconceptions, pre-conceptions, partially correct conceptions, or naive conceptions are a challenge to students' conceptual understanding. Identifying misconceptions that are specific to each discipline of the fluid Earth is the first step in achieving a higher level of conceptual understanding. This can be done using concept inventories, surveys, or focus group interviews (e.g., Arthurs et al., 2015; Robelia & Murphy, 2012).
Project 2061 contains assessment items that target core concepts and misconceptions in the Earth, life, and physical sciences. Each question contains data on the percentage of middle and high school students that answered it correctly. It also contains information on the misconception held by students who answered incorrectly (Prud'homme-Generaux, 2017). There are more than 80 documented misconceptions in the weather and climate theme, including basic concepts and seasonal differences. The website also includes an extensive list of references to studies that explore or unveil misconceptions. Since they are challenging to replace, it is likely that misconceptions held by middle and high school students will persist in college, making the Project 2061 information very valuable for the GER community (Prud'homme-Generaux, 2017).
A review of the literature on misconceptions is available for the solid Earth (Francek, 2013) but research on conceptual understanding of the fluid Earth is scattered among several journals: misconceptions related to tornadoes (Van Den Broeke and Arthurs, 2015), climate change (Huxter et al., 2015), environmental issues (Khalid, 2001; Robelia and Murphy, 2012), ozone formation (Howard et al., 2013), atmospheric pressure (Tytler, 1998), air motion (Papadimitriou, 2001), ocean acidification (Danielson and Tanner, 2015), the greenhouse effect (Boyes & Stanisstreet, 1993; Harris & Gold, 2017), and sea-level rise (Gillette and Hamilton, 2011). Making available a compilation of common misconceptions to educators through an organized review would be a valuable contribution of the GER community.
Teaching about complex systems (e.g. Scherer et al., 2017, Holden et al., 2017), like changes in climate over multiple temporal and spatial scales, represents a challenge that has been studied extensively. Reviewing existing studies, and proposed learning strategies (e.g. Gunckel et al., 2012, Mohan et al., 2009; McNeal et al., 2014; Bush et al., 2016) and drawing from other disciplines would be a valuable contribution to the Earth science community. Learning progression research conducted in the K-12 realm (Songer et al., 2009) can inform instruction in higher education, in particular within the area of interconnected Earth systems. Learning progressions are "descriptions of the successively more sophisticated ways of thinking about a topic that can follow one another as children learn about and investigate a topic over a broad span of time." (Duschl et al., 2007).
The study of the atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial systems is based on models that are used for prediction and for the conceptual understanding of these complex systems. Knowledge of computer programming and advanced math is needed to create, validate or understand these models, making the field less accessible to the broad student population (Ledley et al., 2011; Hamilton, 2015; Hamilton et al., 2015).
Another challenge to the use of systems models in atmospheric science is the fact that uncertainty is inherent in them, yet education research shows that novices are not comfortable with uncertainty. This requires a simplification of the models to adapt them to the student population and the implementation of targeted approaches (e.g., Gold et al., 2015).
Unanticipated changes in the forcing functions of the system resulting from unpredictability of human behavior (Konikow, 1986) that commonly involve activities such as increased water use and land conversion further demands continuous upgrade and creation of new models (Oreskes, 2003). Therefore, time-to-time update in our modeling curriculum makes it challenging for students to grasp completely new materials.
Students enter classes with a complex array of beliefs and personal history that shapes their learning and their perception of the relevance of what they are learning within their own lives. Literature about cognitive and metacognitive aspects of learning shows that these external factors have significant influence on students' conceptual understanding, particularly on topics perceived as controversial (e.g., Vaughn & Robbins, 2017; Walker et al., 2017). Religious beliefs, political inclination, and social identity are strongly correlated with the acceptance or rejection of perceived controversial science topics like evolution, vaccination benefits, and climate change (Walker et al., 2017)
The strong disconnect between scientific views of climate change and the public perception of the scientific consensus (Figure 1), fueled by media and various interest groups, is a formidable challenge for educators (Walker et al., 2017) and has striking similarities to challenges encountered in teaching evolution in the United States.
Social identity theory hypothesizes that people sort themselves into groups based on perceived similarities (e.g., religion, political inclination) and that they hold onto the opinions of the group to remain part of it, a phenomenon known as identity-protective cognition (IPC, Kahan et al., 2007; Kahan, 2010). Studies have shown that, for example, teaching the evidence of climate change is not sufficient, or even counterproductive (Maibach et al., 2009; Kahan, 2015; Walker et al., 2017). Using stories (Clough, 2011), addressing the connection between student identity and acceptance of certain scientific conclusions (Walker et al., 2017), building from personal background and beliefs, rather than challenging them (e.g., Nadelson & Southerland, 2010; Catley et al., 2005), and focusing on solutions as well as challenges (McCaffery & Buhr, 2007) are powerful teaching approaches.
In the U.S. there are approximately 1,200 faculty in oceanography and atmospheric science/meteorology at 4-year institutions, and four times as many faculty are in the broad field of geology or solid Earth. Overall, there are 75 faculty that identify themselves as Earth science education researchers nationwide, and most of them have a background in geology (Wilson, 2016). This difference in numbers is reflected in the size of the community engaged in education research in the fluid Earth field, which makes it challenging to create a research agenda for it.
Calls for a more research-based approach to understanding student learning were made a decade ago (Charlevoix, 2008), and with the GER community not firmly established there is reluctance for university departments to dedicate faculty lines. The interdisciplinary nature of GER is also a challenge for many universities as it relates to tenure-track positions with the tenure process being either less clear or more onerous (O'Meara & Rice, 2005; Trower, 2008; O'Meara, 2010). Efforts and collaborations are underway in the social sciences to connect the research, application, and operation aspects of atmospheric sciences. The GER community could learn from this group as we develop and expand our community (Jacobs et al., 2005; Feldman & Ingram, 2009). Making the work of GER meaningful to faculty across the country can help broaden participation.
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