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Confronting the Challenges of Climate Literacy - EarthLabs: Climate

Principal Investigators: Tamara Shapiro Ledley, TERC, Karen McNeal, Misissippi State University, Julie Libarkin, Michigan State University, and Katherine Ellins, University of Texas
Project Website: EarthLabs for Educators home page and EarthLabs home page
National Science Foundation Grant # 1019721, 1019703, 1019815

Project Description

The Collaborative Research: Confronting the Challenges of Climate Literacy (CCCL) proposal is submitted to the NSF DRK-12 Program Solicitation as a Full Research and Development project primarily addressing Challenge 2: How can all students be assured the opportunity to learn significant STEM content? and secondarily Challenge 3: How can we enhance the ability of teachers to provide STEM education? This project focuses on the "design, development, and testing" of innovative climate change curriculum and teacher professional development (PD) for Earth Systems science (ESS) instruction, with coordination of research and development teams during implementation, efficacy study, and improvement phases. The audiences for the materials are high-school students and teachers, with a particular research focus on high-school students.

We will develop three 3-week long, inquiry-based, lab-focused, climate-change high school-level online Climate Change EarthLabs modules as a context for our research into how students grasp change over time in the Earth system on multiple timescales. We will use a backward-design methodology to identify an integrated set of science content, learning goals, and research questions to inform module development. After development and review, there will be a pilot implementation of the materials and two rounds of PD, implementation, evaluation and research in Texas and Mississippi. Research and evaluation results from the multiple rounds of implementations will allow an iterative process of refining the modules, the PD materials, and our research program.

Intellectual Merit: Climate literacy has emerged as an important domain of education. Yet it presents real challenges in cognition, perception and pedagogy, especially in understanding Earth as a dynamic system operating at local to global spatial scales over multiple time scales. This research project confronts these issues by examining the challenges to high-school students' understanding of Earth's complex systems, operating over various temporal and spatial scales, and by developing potentially transformative research-based insights into effective educational tools and approaches that support learning about climate change and ESS. Research will be conducted in the context of developing inquiry-based curriculum materials dealing with climate change. These inquiry-based learning modules will feature state-of-the-art technologies, rich data sets, field experiences and lab experiments. They will comply with standards for lab-based high school science education and support the Climate Literacy Essential Principles.

We will focus on key research questions to inform the design and development of CCCL materials:

  1. Do students recognize the Earth as a complex, dynamic, inter-connected system and do they understand that its components are constantly changing and interacting?
  2. How well do students grasp the concept of change over time and, specifically, the range of timescales over which Earth's climate changes?
  3. How well do students recognize the spatial scale over which Earth system processes occur?
  4. How well do students understand time and scale as crucial elements of complex Earth systems?

Broader Impacts: Educating the public about climate change is one of the most significant challenges to face the scientific and academic communities. This project will impact two states with large populations of high-school students, significant numbers of poor and minority students, groups likely to be hardest hit by climate change, and teachers in need of ESS training. Simultaneously, the potentially transformative research will shed light on cognitive, perceptual and pedagogical challenges to climate literacy. We will disseminate our findings to developers of curriculum relating to climate literacy and ESS through the Climate Literacy Network, the Council of State Science Supervisors, the Coalition for Earth Systems Education and other related organizations. We will also disseminate our findings through journal articles, conference presentations and our professional contacts in climate literacy and Earth systems education. The curriculum modules developed in this project will be freely available on-line through EarthLabs. Since many states are revamping their high-school Earth Science courses, we expect the modules will be well received and widely used. These resources will help extend the reach of the project beyond its funding, and prepare today's students to be tomorrow's scientists and scientifically literate citizens.

Contact Information:

Tamara Ledley,, 617-873-9658
Nick Haddad,, 617-873-9643
Karen McNeal,, 662-268-1032 x230
Julie Libarkin,, 517-355-8369

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