Climate Change in the Preservice Teacher’s Mind

Oct. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Science Teacher Education, Vol. 24, No. 6, October 2013, p. 999–1022

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examines changes in preservice elementary teachers’ concern and perceptions about climate change after participation in an intervention situated in an elementary science methods course.
Research on teacher beliefs, interest in science, scientific literacy, and the public’s perception of climate change provides the theoretical framework for this study.

The participants were 154 preservice teacher candidates enrolled in an undergraduate elementary (Kindergarten–8th grade level) science methods course taught by the authors at a large southeastern Hispanic-serving university. All but three of the students were female.
Curriculum and instructional materials were developed and integrated into the elementary science methods course as a specific intervention for enhancing awareness and knowledge about climate change.
Framing was used as a guiding principle for the curriculum development.
Students were first introduced to the ‘‘story’’ of climate change through the film, ‘‘An Inconvenient Truth.’’ The film presented the evidence for climate change.
The authors framed the classroom discussion after the film to establish classroom discourse in which scientific evidence was set as an expectation by students.


The findings indicate that the framing approach was successful in promoting more scientific perceptions about climate change.
The students' perceptions on the evidence for climate change, consensus of scientists, impacts of climate change, and influence of politics also changed significantly. The curriculum and instruction appear to be an important factor in increasing understanding of climate change and developing perceptions more aligned to those of climate scientists.

First, the authors integrated disciplinary core ideas. They focused on the relevant physical, life, and earth and space sciences; and the engineering, technology, and applications of science ideas so that the students could see how they would be able to integrate climate change into K-8th grade science curriculum.
A science methods course also incorporates instructional strategies. Hence, the authors modeled an inquiry-based approach in lessons. They then demonstrated how to apply this concept to climate change.

Second, the authors used the practices of scientific inquiry, as an underlying frame or storyline throughout the course. In the context of a science methods course, it was appropriate to provide opportunities for students to follow practices of scientific inquiry. This nurtured their analytical skills and enabled them to differentiate scientific evidence from opinions.
The students also became more engaged in the issue by learning about the practices of scientific inquiry. Engaging students in the practices of science helps them understand how scientific knowledge develops over time.
Students planned and conducted simple investigations on a variety of topics related to climate change. They were able to see how simple investigations could be applied to real-world phenomena as they viewed the film.

Finally, climate change is an issue that is constantly in the media.
Hence, students came to the methods course with some familiarity of the topic.
Most of the students reported becoming more interested in learning about climate change and science, in general.
In summary, the careful framing of climate change seems to have been effective in changing perceptions about it and promoting interest in the issue.
This study seems to indicate that the influence of perceptions about climate change can play a role in students’ motivation to learn the science needed to understand this complex issue.

Implications for Science Teacher Education

Framing, the setting of an issue within an appropriate context to achieve a desired interpretation or perspective, can make climate science more accessible to the public.
Based on this study, the authors think that framing can make climate science (and science in general) more accessible to preservice teachers.

The authors conclude that framing climate change within the course curriculum with careful consideration can help preservice teachers learn to evaluate information in ways akin to scientists. Framing helps provide an interpretative lens or filter for choosing resources to continue to develop their understanding of the science of climate change.
Finally, this study of preservice teachers' perceptions about climate change provides preliminary support for the value of providing a careful framing of the topic of climate change within the context of the science methods course.

Updated: Mar. 20, 2016