Research

Research Goal

This on-going research project seeks to understand what influences students' desire to learn about climate change and its effects on forests as well as the role interest plays in supporting students’ learning about these topics.

Research Summary 

Year 1 (2013)

About 350 students participated in the first 2013 pilot study. Although the primary purpose of this study was to test the measures we developed to assess students’ knowledge and interests related to climate change and forests, we were also able to use the data to identify before-curriculum to after-curriculum changes and to begin to explore relationships between students’ interests.

Initial results suggested promising gains in climate change knowledge after students participated in the Climate Change and Michigan Forests curriculum. When accounting for teacher effects, however, there were no significant changes in interest measures.

We also explored relationships between factors that influenced students' interest in, and desire to learn about, climate change and forests. These factors included Overall Science Interest, Perception of Climate Change Risk, Interest in Scientific Inquiry and Desire to Conduct Scientific Inquiry. We learned that students' general interest in science and science inquiry significantly influenced their interest in and desire to learn about climate change and forests. Perception of climate change risk, however, had only a small influence on students’ interest in climate change and forests before the curriculum, and no influence after the curriculum.

These results suggest that climate change educators can foster students’ interest in climate change, regardless of the extent to which students initially perceive there to be climate change risks. Instead of focusing on increasing students’ perceptions of climate change risks, educators can strengthen students’ interest in and desire to learn about climate change by enhancing their interest in science in general, and involving them in scientific inquiry activities.

To learn more about this study, click here to read to our article in the Electronic Journal of Science Education.

Year 2 (2014)

The Year 2 study was designed to provide insights into how the Climate Change and Michigan Forests curriculum influences both students' knowledge of, and interest in, climate change and forests, as well as the role of an outdoor fieldtrip within this context. Over 420 students participated in this study, as well as a comparison group of 172 students who did not experience the curriculum.

Students who took part in the curriculum significantly increased in their knowledge about climate change and forests. Before the curriculum, they answered 41% of the 21 questions correctly whereas after the curriculum, 65% of the questions were answered correctly. In contrast, there were no significant changes in the comparison’s group knowledge scores. There was only one significant change in interest measures, with students’ mean ratings for Desire to Learn More about Climate Change and Forests declining slightly from 3.41 to 3.10 on a 5-point scale (5 = highest rating). We believe this may be because students are satisfied with what they have learned about these topics as a result of the curriculum, thus resulting in a decrease in their desire to learn more.

Year 3 (2015)

The Year 3 study was designed to replicate key findings, and to answer additional questions raised from our Year 2 research. Over 270 students participated in this study, and we included a comparison group of 199 students who did not experience the curriculum.

Before the curriculum, participating students answered 41% of the 23 questions correctly whereas after the curriculum, 62% of the questions were answered correctly. There were no significant changes in the comparison’s group knowledge scores. We also found statistically significant changes in four interest measures, with students’ mean ratings for Perceived Topic Value, Self- and Collective Efficacy Regarding Climate Change, and Perceived Threat of Climate Change all increasing slightly on a 5-point scale, and their Desire to Learn More about Climate Change and Forests once again declining slightly.

An article describing the results from the Year 2 and Year 3 research is currently in preparation for submission in 2018.

Year 4 (2016)

The Year 4 study was designed to replicate key findings from Year 2 and Year 3. Approximately 250 students participated in this study, and we included a comparison group of 146 students who did not experience the curriculum.

Before the curriculum, participating students answered 44% of the 23 questions correctly whereas after the curriculum, 64% of the questions were answered correctly. We found that the comparison group’s mean score significantly decreased over the same amount of time. We also found statistically significant changes in three interest measures, with students’ mean ratings for Perceived Topic Value, Self- and Collective Efficacy Regarding Climate Change, and Perceived Threat of Climate Change all increasing slightly on a 5-point scale. In Year 4, we found no significant change in students’ Desire to Learn More about Climate Change and Forests.

Year 4 also included preliminary qualitative research to validate the instrument used in Year 5, described below.

Year 5 (2017)

The Year 5 study shifted to a more qualitative exploration of how students’ understanding of scientific modelling changed from before to after the intervention. In this study, participating students developed mental maps using the conceptual content cognitive mapping (3CM) technique, measured before and after students participated in the unit. A total of 32 students participated in both rounds of research, which did not include a comparison group. Preliminary results indicate students already had basic knowledge of the scientific process, but after the unit they developed more sophisticated maps of climate science concepts.

We are currently investigating changes in students’ conceptual knowledge of climate modelling from before to after the unit. Full results will be shared in 2018.