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Effectively engaging with climate skeptics

Jessica Kleiss, On the Cutting Edge

In this activity, students select an argument of a climate skeptic, research it, and write up a mock dialog that portrays a back-and-forth discussion between the skeptic and a non-skeptic, while presenting a scientific argument that counters the false claim.

Activity takes about three hours to complete.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 5 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate science improves informed policy and decision-making
About Teaching the Guiding Principle
Other materials addressing GPa

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

  • Educator should emphasize to students that the simulated discourse be respectful and constructive. It may be tempting to negatively stereotype those who oppose climate science, but that approach only widens the gap between the two sides. For example, the dialog could include questions that the students could ask the skeptics so that they could try to understand each other's underlying concerns, rather than steamrolling over each other.
  • Read more about this topic in a CLEAN workshop summary Teaching Climate Controversies.
  • Teaching students how to respond to skeptics' arguments is an important part of helping them thoroughly understand and engage with climate science.
  • This activity could be adapted to work in pairs, can be acted out loud, or could be posted online.
  • Developer suggests using this activity at the end of an introductory climate science course.

About the Science

  • Resource challenges students to identify an apparently valid climate skeptic's argument against global warming/climate change and simulate a discussion in which the skeptic's argument is countered with scientific evidence and data.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    - lets students explore a wide variety of climate change concepts
    - invokes students to use graphics to explain climate change

    - This could very easily be turned into a media-based opinion piece. I think it's really important that students find sources that are rooted in credibility
    - I think the motivation of this activity is very clear but direction on the execution of the activity is lacking a bit of clarity. Maybe students should be initially directed to a list of the 'contrarian arguments' about climate change to pick from, otherwise students will pick very vague climate change issues to talk about. The student example helps a lot.

About the Pedagogy

  • Activity is structured as a (web) research and writing assignment, with the writing assignment documenting a simulated debate. Students also reflect on the overall process and what they learned from it.
  • Other resources can be used in place or in addition to the ones provided (some are somewhat old) in the activity. The pedagogic notations about making sure students are respectful and the usefulness of where these arguments come from is important.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The activity is complete and can be used as-is or adapted to a particular setting.
  • Activity guide for students is contained in a 2-page Word document.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Science and Engineering Practices: 5

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

HS-P7.2:Evaluate the claims, evidence, and/or reasoning behind currently accepted explanations or solutions to determine the merits of arguments.

HS-P7.3:Respectfully provide and/or receive critiques on scientific arguments by probing reasoning and evidence, challenging ideas and conclusions, responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, and determining additional information required to resolve contradictions.

HS-P7.4:Construct, use, and/or present an oral and written argument or counter-arguments based on data and evidence.

HS-P8.4: Evaluate the validity and reliability of and/or synthesize multiple claims, methods, and/or designs that appear in scientific and technical texts or media reports, verifying the data when possible.

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