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Teaching Climate Science by Studying Misinformation

Daniel Bedford, Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College

In this activity, students critically evaluate the arguments about climate change raised in a climate contrarian newspaper op-ed. This exercise is intended to strengthen student critical thinking and content knowledge at the end of a unit on the climate system.

no time is suggested; an hour should be sufficient

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14)
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College Upper (15-16)
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Upper college, college lower- if teachers have good background in climate change -- could cause misconceptions otherwise

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate information can be used to reduce vulnerabilities or enhance the resilience of communities and ecosystems affected by climate change. Continuing to improve scientific understanding of the climate system and the quality of reports to policy and decision-makers is crucial.
About Teaching the Guiding Principle
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Reducing human vulnerability to the impacts of climate change depends not only upon our ability to understand climate science, but also upon our ability to integrate that knowledge into human society. Decisions that involve Earth’s climate must be made with an understanding of the complex inter-connections among the physical and biological components of the Earth system as well as the consequences of such decisions on social, economic, and cultural systems.
About Teaching the Guiding Principle
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Scientific observations indicate that global climate has changed in the past, is changing now, and will change in the future. The magnitude and direction of this change is not the same at all locations on Earth.
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4d
Environmental observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system. From the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the Sun, instruments on weather stations, buoys, satellites, and other platforms collect climate data. To learn about past climates, scientists use natural records, such as tree rings, ice cores, and sedimentary layers. Historical observations, such as native knowledge and personal journals, also document past climate change.
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

Scientists can bring information, insights, and analytical skills to bear on matters of public concern. Acting in their areas of expertise, scientists can help people understand the likely causes of events and estimate their possible effects.
Explore the map of concepts related to this benchmark

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Educators should read carefully the author's comments about the dangers of using these kinds of opinion pieces.
  • Educators can apply the same methodology described in this activity to other opinion pieces that challenge climate science.
  • Additional materials on the http://www.skepticalscience.com/ website will support the educator in teaching this lesson.

About the Science

  • Activity contains no science content of its own, although it supports an understanding of role of scientific evidence and peer-review in scientific practice.
  • Activity contributes a very important aspect that is not found in many other teaching materials - how to provide students with tools to discuss climate change with deniers. Comment from expert scientist: this is particularly important in the area of climate science where misinformation abounds - providing students with the critical thinking and tools to identify and see through misinformation should be an important part of education.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • Activity is a culminating project. Because of the required skills and concepts, it should not be attempted until late in the semester.
  • Outstanding resource that should be used only by someone who is knowledgeable about arguments from climate change deniers.
  • Very careful use is required to not enforce misconceptions in students.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Activity web page includes an activity description/assignment, instructor's notes and solution all tied to the particular op-ed piece referenced in the activity.

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