The complex topic of global climate change continues to be a challenging yet important topic among science educators and researchers. This mixed methods study adds to the growing research by investigating student conceptions of climate change from a system theory perspective (Von Bertalanffy, 1968) by asking the question, "How do differences in content knowledge, system theory skills, social influences, beliefs and attitudes towards climate change influence overall conceptualizations of climate change in an environmental science high school classroom?" The first, qualitative phase of the study gathered evidence of participants' 1) content knowledge, 2) system theory skills, 3) social influences, and 4) beliefs and attitudes towards climate change. An analysis of this data resulted in a typology for the class, which was used to select six focus students for the second, qualitative phase of the study. The second phase utilized a case study framework (Cresswell, 2007), focusing on a series of interviews and classroom observations of the six focus students to identify points of intersection between students' content knowledge, system theory skills, social influences, beliefs and attitudes towards climate change insofar as they contributed to the students' overall conceptualization of climate change. Findings indicate that: 1) student motivation and engagement to discuss and learn about climate change is highly complex and not correlated simply to their beliefs towards climate change; 2) belief structures around climate change are dynamic, they change across time, context and audience; 3) students holding beliefs divergent to their peers or teacher are more likely to draw from social information sources (versus scientific sources) and have a greater likelihood of arriving at incorrect knowledge about climate change; 4) disbelief in climate change as a overall phenomena does not correlate to a disbelief in or incorrect knowledge of the scientific topics related to climate change; 5) radiation, the greenhouse effect, ozone and the carbon cycle remain difficult concepts for students to articulate understanding of, whether explored in isolation or in relation to other topics; 6) the study of the overall phenomena of climate change gives opportunities to use system theory skills, but may also result in feelings of inaccessibility and/or incomprehensiveness, and therefore the study of the overall phenomena may not be suitable for a high school classroom. These findings have implications for both educators and researchers interested in exploration of climate change.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2013. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Gillian Heather Roehrig. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 270 pages, appendices A-C.
Tierney, Benjamin P..
Climate cases: learning about student conceptualizations of global climate change.
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