Ep 48 – Journal Club – Climate in curriculum; benefits of hope enhancing programmes

Discussion of two pieces of research and what they mean for environmental educators. Potential problems with embedding climate and sustainability in the curriculum. How environmental-hope-enhancing programs could resolve some of these issues.

State of Climate Education in the UK

Top line results

  • Do you feel you’ve received adequate training as a teacher, during qualification or since, to educate students on climate change, its implications for the environment and societies around the world, and how these implications can be addressed?
    • 70% of teachers responded that they had not received training on any aspect of climate change.

  • When asked how climate change is taught in their school
    • 53% responded that Climate change is often mentioned, taught in the curriculum and has also been the topic of other classes or assemblies.
    • 40% of respondents reported that climate change was rarely or never mentioned.
  • 90% felt that climate change was of concern and more should be done
  • 90% felt climate change education should be compulsory
  • Main barriers to teaching about climate change
    • overstretched teaching the current curriculum: ~40%
    • lack of confidence in knowledge of the topic: ~20%
    • too divisive/political: 9%

Issues raised

Too political

We need think about the topic into the situation and the solutions. The situation is a physical reality. Climate systems and the impact of greenhouse gases are now very well understood. Teachers should be able to teach about this situation and how its impacts are felt in various subjects. The ecological impacts are most commonly thought of, but these have human impacts which can be studied in geography or social studies. Climate has also shaped history.

Solutions to climate change are political. We have many tools at our disposal to have an impact on the situation: eating less meat, reducing flights, protection of peat bogs, renewable energy. However each of these have different costs to different people. Weighing the costs and the benefits of these is not an objective process, it is a political one. However teachers can still allow students to explore these solutions and their costs/benefits. Writing assignments or art projects can allow students to express themselves. Teacher can assess the technical aspects of students’ work without needing to express an opinion on a student’s view that everyone should be vegan, or that all flights should be cancelled.

Too much curriculum content already

What is probably needed to resolve this perennial problem is a hard look at how the education system works in the UK, and there needs to be a push to give teachers the space and tools to teach kids how to teach themselves. Check out these other podcasts which explore ways to rethink teaching in much more depth.

Embedding in the curriculum may not be enough and even counterproductive

  • Too much focus big problems could lead students to suffer from empathy burnout/compassion fatigue, where students essentially tire out their ability to worry about others. Allowing teachers to be flexible in how they approach climate and other environmental issues means they would be able to adjust to the needs and interests of their class. It also allows them to give students a break, so they have time to process how they feel.
  • Adding more content to the curriculum could cause teachers to fall back on easier, but less effective teaching methods like lecturing or assigning reading. These allow teachers to cover more content quickly, but the information is often quickly forgotten.

Environmental hope enhancing programmes

Dorit Kerret, Hod Orkibi, Shira Bukchin & Tammie Ronen (2020) Two for one: achieving both pro-environmental behavior and subjective well-being by implementing environmental-hope-enhancing programs in schools, The Journal of Environmental Education, 51:6, 434-448, DOI: 10.1080/00958964.2020.1765131

This study consisted of surveys of students in schools in Israel. Some of the students went to normal schools, while others went to schools with green certification, where the environment is supposed to be embedded in all curriculum areas. The researchers found that school-type was not strongly associated with pro-environmental behaviour. In other words, going to a green school did not seem to have much impact on whether students took action on environmental issues. What did have an impact was taking part in hope-enhancing activities or programmes. Students who participated in this type of programme were more likely to self-report that they regularly took action to do things like reduce waste, or participate in environmental activism. They were also more likely to report feeling positive, and have higher school satisfaction. This result held regardless of whether the school had green accreditation or not.

What makes a hope enhancing programme?

Social trust – Trusting that others are also doing their part. This breaks down the feeling that there is no point doing anything because an individual action would have no impact.

  • Programmes often involved:
    • collaboration with partners both inside and outside the school to achieve a goal.
    • Teaching about actions which were already being taken by others
    • Building a sense of community

Pathway thinking – Being able to see a path or plan a route through a problem.

  • Programmes often involved:
    • Setting goals
    • Prioritizing
    • Tracking progress
    • Problem solving

Agency thinking – Knowing what you want to do and believing that your goal is achievable.  

Thinking about goal setting – Approach versus Avoidance goals

An approach goal is one which you work towards achieving, an avoidance goal focuses on preventing something from happening. As an example, an approach goal might be to find ways of protecting or supporting biodiversity. An avoidance goal might focus on how many species have become endangered and preventing their extinction. The two are similar, but the researchers found that more hopeful students tended to use ‘approach’ goals. Supporting students in developing ‘approach goals’ may help them stay positive in their outlook.

Source: Approach Versus Avoidance Goals: Differences in Self-Evaluation and Well-Being

Implications

Carefully consider how environmental issues are incorporated into sessions.

If an issue is only touched on at the end of a session students could leave feeling overwhelmed and helpless. It could also trivialize the issue because it appears not to be important enough to devote session time towards discussing. It may be more effective to focus on a concept or the experience of the visit. You could then provide teachers with support and resources to build on the experience and tackle a bigger issue back in class. This approach could allow you to focus on helping students develop a connection or appreciation for nature. This positive experience can provide relevance and motivation for students when they approach an issue.

Frame environmental problems in terms of developing approach goals rather than avoidance goals.

For example: Instead of ‘how can we stop deforestation’, which focuses on what is being lost. You might reframe this as ‘how can we help forests to grow or thrive’. The latter includes tackling deforestation, but also includes looking for ways to support what is good. This could help prevent kids from being overwhelmed with negativity and eco-anxiety without losing sight of the problem.

Teaching students about what is being done on the site to tackle environmental issues.

This supports social trust. Learning about the actions taken by a local organization, or a local green space could be a really powerful way to counteract feelings of helplessness. The fact that these actions are being taken by a local organization can also bring home the message that global issues also affect us, and that there are things which can be done to help.

Encourage teachers to visit outdoor sites in their own time.

Teachers need to have positive connections with nature and are confident using outdoor spaces, and have solid background knowledge of the topic. Environmental organizations need to be providing hope-enhancing experiences for teachers as well as students. Encouraging teachers to visit when you are running hands-on activities over holidays. Allow teachers to observe and help with school sessions. These are opportunities for teachers to take ideas and first hand experience back to their classrooms.

Ep 36 – Journal Club – Ways of Knowing

Exploration of similarities and differences among Eurocentric sciences, Indigenous, and Neo-indigenous ways of knowing, to hopefully offer insights to science educators. Better understanding of these ways of knowing could help build bridges between our knowledge systems and other ways of knowing.

Article Discussed

Aikenhead, G.S., Ogawa, M. (2007). Indigenous knowledge and science revisited. Cultural Studies of Science Education. 2, 539–620. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-007-9067-8

Euro-American ways of knowing or Eurocentric sciences

  • Uniformitarian
    • Refers to the generalizability of scientific knowledge. Knowledge is valuable if it can be generalized to similar settings or situations. There is only one truth.
  • Reductionist
    • Complex problems or systems are approached by breaking it down into parts or variables.
  • Anthropocentric
    • Nature is seen in terms of its relationship to people. How useful it is to people. People are also free to manipulate and use nature as they see fit.
  • Influenced by positivism
    • A system of thought which attempts to produce a science free from any worldview or ideology. Emphasis is on inductive and deductive logic applied impartially to theory-neutral observations. Making use of empirical and experimental methods. The thinking being that this produces objective, value-free, universal, secure knowledge of nature.

Indigenous ways of knowing

  • Tend not to make use of dichotomies. 

“The languages of Aboriginal peoples allow for the transcendence of boundaries. For example, the categorizing process in many Aboriginal languages does not make use of dichotomies…. There is no animate/inanimate dichotomy. Everything is more or less animate.” 

“Aboriginal languages are, for the most part, verb-rich languages that are process- or action-oriented. They are generally aimed at describing ‘‘happenings’’ rather than objects.”

-Leroy Little Bear
  • Holistic and relational
    • Tends not to make the distinctions made by Europeans between concepts like science, art, religion.  Also tend to see everything as animate in some way, having knowledge and spirit. Don’t tend to have a hierarchy of status where plants are below animals, which are below people. Similarities between entities and people mean they are often also considered related to people.
  • Place-based
    • Knowledge and identity are profoundly linked with place or landscape.
  • Systematically empirical
    • Experience is collected over generations, incorporating or embracing changes. New information is “vetted collaboratively with wise knowledge keepers (often Elders), and all are tested out in the everyday world of personal experience.” (p.562)
  • Circular/Cyclical sense of time.
    • Embraces cycles and patterns. Time is dynamic but is not a linear progression.

Neo-indigenous ways of knowing

The authors identify neo-indigenous cultures as 

“non-Eurocentric cultures with a long standing history often tied to a geographic region. This history does not include being colonized by Western nations to the degree so many Indigenous peoples were.”

“Indigenous cultures worldwide are heterogeneous, yet neo-indigenous cultures are far more heterogeneous. For instance, Islamic, Bhutanese, and Japanese ways of knowing nature differ so widely that no one culture can be reasonably indicative of the others, in spite of their being non-Eurocentric.”

p.566

The authors in this article focus on the Japanese worldview. Highlighting the difference between the action-oriented concept of ‘shiru’ which roughly translates as ‘to know’, and ‘chishiki’, roughly translated as ‘knowledge’.

“From a Japanese person’s view of reality, knowing nature arises from praxis and metaphysics, whereas knowledge is something extracted and abstracted from reality by a Eurocentric point of view.”

“There is no Japanese translation for ‘‘the content of what is known’’ that would capture a Japanese perspective. In other words, shiru and chishiki are not directly related in Japanese, but to know and knowledge are directly related in English.”

p.567

They also spend time on the concept of ‘shizen’ which is often translated as nature, but also incorporates the interrelationship between humans and the environment they inhabit.

“Another way to compare shizen (as a noun) and nature is in the context of education. An education in shizen implies loving natural things in a totality with human experiences (verb oriented), while an education in nature (i.e., in Eurocentric sciences) implies the acquisition of knowledge of nature conventionally isolated from human experiences (noun oriented).”

p.571

Discussion Notes

Have you seen or encountered examples of different ways of understanding the world?

  • Cleanliness
    • Moral or spiritual pollution – concepts like sin or karma
    • Dirtiness – Being muddy or unsanitary
    • Pollution – Contamination with poisons or toxins

A pond might be ‘clean’ in the sense of being free from pesticides, fertilizers, or other toxins, but still be unsanitary or unsafe for drinking. It may be that neither of these dimensions have any bearing on the spiritual purity/pollution of the water.

  • Authority / expertise
    • Lived experience vs Academic knowledge
    • Who is an expert? Adults, Scientists, people with experience etc.

What is sufficient might vary from person to person. Adults sometimes want more academic/scientific sources for an explanation, where first-hand experience of a phenomenon may be enough for a child.

Reliance on experts for information may undermine individual’s drive to learn on their own. However individual first-hand investigation has limitations, and solely relying on this may lead to developing misconceptions. 

What do you already do, or have done, which could be adapted to these different paradigms?

  • Incorporate more art into environmental communication
  • Experiential learning
    • Gardening is a good example. It is very place-based, cyclical, and can be very empirical. Gardeners are constantly testing wisdom passed on from other gardeners.
  • Consider the relevance of what students learn.
    • Conceptualizing learning as ‘shiru’, which blends knowledge and how it shapes behaviour. The relevance of learning is built in. Learned ideas include how it changes the way you live or behave. All ‘shiru’ is practical.
  • Rethink dichotomies
    • Rethinking person/animal dichotomy might help with building respect
    • Similarly rethinking the animate/inanimate dichotomy might help people have greater respect for the environments they depend on

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Music in this episode – Gradual Sunrise by David Hilowitz

Ep 31 – Journal club – Arts in environmental education

Framing paper

Holzer, M., & Keller, L. (2020). WHY SCIENCE IS NOT A RECIPE: Expanding Habits of Mind through Art. In Henseler C. (Ed.), Extraordinary Partnerships: How the Arts and Humanities are Transforming America (pp. 281-298). Lever Press. doi:10.3998/mpub.11649046.20

“We have identified ways to begin teaching habits of mind through which students realize that they need not distinguish themselves as “a science person” or “an arts person.” Rather, to understand and live the full richness of human experience, these ways of appreciating our surroundings must be seen, and taught, as complementary for all students, regardless of their primary interest or focus.” (Holzer, M., & Keller, L., 2020, p.296)

Where is environmental education now?

  • Many teachers seem to link environmental education with the science and geography curriculum
  • Environmental education may have been stronger on artistic perspective and emotional connection
  • Moves to professionalize outdoor education may have led to a shift towards science. Mirrors the move in education more broadly to emphasizing the STEM subjects.

What resonated with you?

  • Education system seems to pressure people into pigeonholes
    • May be unnecessarily limiting people’s interests
  • World is a complex system, different perspectives bring their own insights
    • Separation between art and science is a very modern idea
    • Many scientists in history were also artists or used artistic skills
      • Many modern fields of study benefit from having some background in arts and science
  • Peter Scott, founder of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and what is now the World Wide Fund for nature was an artist and conservationist
    • Began what is now one of the longest running studies of a single species anywhere in the world by painting portraits of the Bewick’s swans which came to the pond by his house each winter.
    • Portraits allowed Scott and his family to track behaviour and relationships between individual swans and create family trees.
  • Describe, Reflect, Speculate model for object-based learning
    • Begin with observing and describing, then reflect on prior knowledge, and speculate on answers to new questions
  • Illustrated nature guides can be better that photographs for some people
    • Artist curates the image, highlighting key features
    • Depiction is idealized version rather than a specific individual specimen 
  • The scientific method vs the scientific process
    • Method suggests recipe to follow
    • Process suggests a way of working

What are your thoughts on bringing more arts into environmental education?

  • Art may be a way of building emotional connection between people and the environment
    • Encourages people to slow down and notice things
    • Approaching from an artistic perspective may make science and museum collections accessible to a wider audience
    • Different way of communicating which may resonate more with people who might feel that science is ‘not their thing’
  • Often art is used in science education to demonstrate learning or depict results of research and investigation
    • This paper describes using art to stimulate learning and inform scientific investigation
    • Applying art literacy skills in science
  • Brings subjectivity back into science and environmental education
    • Objectivity often synonymous with unemotional
    • Growing recognition that it is difficult or impossible to fully remove subjectivity from science
  • Ironically some schools of art are taking more inspiration from more scientific perspectives
    • Atelier art schools focus on realistic representation
    • Scientific/historical illustration
    • Botanical art
  • Not all activities which use art materials are productive or artistic
    • Need to clearly identify what the aim is, consider if the activity actually helps people meet that aim
    • If not carefully thought out and well taught/facilitated, art activities can quickly become just busy work

Related articles

Kamen, R. (2020). Humanizing Science: Awakening Scientific Discovery through the Arts and Humanities. In Henseler C. (Ed.), Extraordinary Partnerships: How the Arts and Humanities are Transforming America (pp. 299-320). Lever Press. DOI:10.3998/mpub.11649046.21

Stivaktakis, Stathis & Krevetzakis, Evangelia. (2018). Learning Science through the Arts: The Theory and the Educational Possibilities. Journal of Advances in Education Research. 3. DOI:10.22606/jaer.2018.31007.

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Music in this episode: Gradual Sunrise by David Hilowitz

Ep 27 – Journal Club – Uncertainty and the nature of science

Discussion about challenges of teaching science. The discussion is framed by a paper by Rabinovich and Morton (2012) which looked at participants beliefs about the nature of science and how it impacts their response to varying degrees on uncertainty in science communication.

Framing paper

Rabinovich, Anna & Morton, Thomas. (2012). Unquestioned Answers or Unanswered Questions: Beliefs About Science Guide Responses to Uncertainty in Climate Change Risk Communication. Risk analysis : an official publication of the Society for Risk Analysis. 32. 992-1002.

Abstract

In two experimental studies we investigated the effect of beliefs about the nature and purpose of science (classical vs. Kuhnian models of science) on responses to uncertainty in scientific messages about climate change risk. The results revealed a significant interaction between both measured (Study 1) and manipulated (Study 2) beliefs about science and the level of communicated uncertainty on willingness to act in line with the message. Specifically, messages that communicated high uncertainty were more persuasive for participants who shared an understanding of science as debate than for those who believed that science is a search for absolute truth. In addition, participants who had a concept of science as debate were more motivated by higher (rather than lower) uncertainty in climate change messages. The results suggest that achieving alignment between the general public’s beliefs about science and the style of the scientific messages is crucial for successful risk communication in science. Accordingly, rather than uncertainty always undermining the effectiveness of science communi- cation, uncertainty can enhance message effects when it fits the audience’s understanding of what science is.

Models of the nature of science 

Classical

Science uncovers objective truth. An implication of this model is that there is a single version of truth.

Kuhnian 

Articulated from the writings of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. Science is a series of paradigms (general ways of seeing and understanding the world). Scientific development comes from debate over evidence supporting different paradigms eventually leading to some being discarded (paradigm shifts). Paradigms often rest on untestable presuppositions. Which means knowledge cannot be objectively proved to be “true”. Instead scientific progress involves eliminating hypotheses by proving that the observable world does not match assumptions and predictions of the paradigm.

Our discussion

  • Most people probably don’t spend the time to fully articulate their views on the nature of science.
  • Some sciences lend themselves to one model over the other.
    • Climate science rests on probabilistic predictions of large chaotic systems
    • Particle physics involves incredibly precise measurement
  • Science in schools generally teaches facts, leading students towards a classical view of science
  • Curriculum and pressures from assessments does not leave much room for teaching scientific processes
  • It is difficult to change students views on the nature of science
    • Curriculum and assessment constraints
    • By the time students reach secondary school beliefs can be very entrenched
  • Science communication may be more successful if time is taken to understand listener’s views on the nature of science
    • Khunian views can be approached by describing threads of evidence and what areas of uncertainty are still being investigated
    • Classical views can be addressed by talking about what evidence has been gathered and what it points towards.

Problematic points in the paper

  • Rabinovich and Morton’s 2nd experiment attempts to modify participants views on science by having participants read a treatment text, however they do not mention measuring participants views before the treatment. At best they measure a correlation.
  • Their conclusions suggest that participants who hold a more classical view of science would not respond positively to messages about uncertainty in science. This suggests to us that they would be less likely to alter their beliefs based on the treatment text.

Related articles

McComas W.F., Clough M.P., Almazroa H. (1998) The Role and Character of the Nature of Science in Science Education. In: McComas W.F. (eds) The Nature of Science in Science Education. Science & Technology Education Library, vol 5. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-306-47215-5_1

Peters, R. G., Covello, V. T., & McCallum, D. B. (1997). The determinants of trust and credibility in environmental risk communication: an empirical study. Risk analysis : an official publication of the Society for Risk Analysis, 17(1), 43–54. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.1997.tb00842.x

Retzbach, A., & Maier, M. (2015). Communicating Scientific Uncertainty: Media Effects on Public Engagement With Science. Communication Research, 42(3), 429–456. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650214534967

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