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Advancing Climate Change Education: Student Engagement and Teacher Talk in the Classroom

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Nicole Holthuis, Rachel Lotan, Jennifer Saltzman, Michael Mastrandrea,
Polly Diffenbaugh, Salina Gray, Matt Kloser

Stanford’s Global Climate Change: Professional Development for K-12 Teachers is a unique collaboration between the Stanford School of Education and School of Earth Sciences to provide teacher professional development on the science of global climate change, pedagogical strategies, and curriculum materials.   Scientists and education specialists developed a curriculum for middle and high school science classrooms. It addresses the fundamental issues of climate science, the impacts of climate change on society and on global resources, mitigation and adaptation strategies. 

This project documents in detail the full circle of curriculum development, teacher professional development, classroom implementation, analysis of student achievement data, and curriculum revision.  Ongoing evaluation has provided understanding of the unique conditions and requirements of climate change education. In a sample of 750 secondary students in 25 Bay Area classrooms, we found statistically significant differences between post-  (x=11.56, sd=4.75) and pre- (x=8.64, sd=4.58) test scores on standardized items and short open-ended essay questions.

Through systematic classroom observations (300 observations in 25 classrooms), we documented student engagement and interactions, and the nature of teachers’ talk in the classroom.  We found that on average, 73.4% of the students were engaged, 14.4% were interacting with peers, and about 12.1% were disengaged. We also documented teacher talk (165 observations) and found that on the average, teachers delivered factual content and talked about classroom processes and spent less time on scientific argumentation, reasoning and/ or analysis. We documented significant differences in the quality of implementation among the teachers.

Our study suggests that in addition to strengthening content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge, professional development for teachers needs to include classroom management strategies, explicit modeling of collaborative work, and greater attention to the quality of teachers’ questions and interactions with the students to enhance the quality of student talk and understanding.  In our final year of the project, we will focus our observations more tightly on the nature of teacher and student talk to explore student understanding of climate change.

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