Climate change education: the perspective from middle school teachers

Friday 11:30am-1:30pm UMC Aspen Rooms


Peggy McNeal, Towson University
Patricia Reeves, Western Michigan University
Heather Petcovic, Western Michigan University
Schools should be active places where citizens learn about climate and how to advocate for stewardship of the planet. However, the global nature of climate science, the complexity of Earth systems, misconceptions about human versus natural causes and confusion complicate implementation of climate change education. The literature also documents poor teacher knowledge of processes underlying climate change. Missing from prior work, however, is an understanding of climate education from the perspective of the teacher. This study acknowledges the voice of the teacher, specifically, how teachers identify their own conceptions and biases, gauge how relevant they feel climate science is to their curriculum and describe the impetus for its inclusion.

Data were collected during an online focus group with teachers from across the country. The focus group methodology encouraged teachers to engage with each other, formulate ideas, and express a range of responses that might otherwise be unarticulated. Perhaps most important, while the focus group revealed dispositions and motivations to the researchers, it also brought teachers themselves into the conversation. The themes that emerged from qualitative analysis of the data provide an enhanced understanding of teacher attitudes, behavior, opinions and perceptions.

The results of the study are informative for scientists, teachers, and education professionals. In order to fully and effectively implement climate change education, the classroom teacher must be considered, consulted and understood. This study provides a basis for understanding teacher perspectives about climate change education and implies that continued discussions with teachers are beneficial.