How can we help students translate climate change data and evidence into action?

How can we help students translate climate change data and evidence into action?

By Bridgette Byrd O’Connor 

We live in a world that bombards us with data. News organizations include charts and graphs as evidence to support their arguments. Politicians haul out poster-size charts when they debate bills. You can even sign up for weekly newsletters that feature interesting ways to show data. But how can we help our students understand all this information? How can we help them to use the data they see to decide what sorts of innovations and social policies—from solar power to public transportation—they might be interested in personally supporting or working on?   

Data are just one of the tools any student might use to select the climate change Solutions that seem right for them. Students will also want to take into account their personal hobbies and interests, their community values, and more. But only quantitative evidence can help them answer important questions like what Solutions will make the most impact, take the most resources, or help us change our direction most quickly. However, data also pose a particular challenge. Data can be overwhelming for students, especially if they haven’t been exposed to data literacy, the scientific background necessary to fully understand the evidence, or the political background they need to advocate for climate policies.  

Climate Project Data Exploration articles Climate Project Data Exploration articles 

The Climate Project is the perfect way to hone your students’ skills in these areas. Each Grand Challenge section includes a data exploration for students to improve their data literacy and find reliable evidence. The data exploration articles provide students with a narrative for understanding climate data along with a series of charts and graphs. Students are guided through the data to help them grasp how to read these charts while also learning more about certain topics mentioned in Climate Project videos, such as the perils of cow burps and deforestation for How We Grow Things, and dispelling misconceptions about topics, such as the hazards associated with nuclear energy compared to fossil fuels. The data in these articles are essential evidence for students’ Climate Summit presentations, but the articles also provide students with reliable evidence for their understanding of how we can get to net-zero emissions. As an example, below is an excerpt from the Climate Project's Manufacturing Data Exploration." 

Chart showing the cost of 1 ton of regular concrete at $125 and 1 ton of concrete after carbon capture at $260.We can’t solve climate change until we can capture all the carbon produced when cement is made. But any student who thinks this is an easy problem to solve will need to confront the “green premium” by recognizing the fact that capturing that carbon, right now, will double the price of concrete! From the Climate Project Manufacturing Data Exploration. 

Of course, while we provide students with articles and videos from trusted sources, chances are they’ll also need to perform some outside research to find additional evidence. There are several strategies students can use to ensure they’re using reliable evidence, such as the OER Project’s claim testing progression or Sam Wineburg and Bob Bain’s discussion at this year’s OC for SS about the challenges students face when doing online research, along with some strategies to help them. 

Once students have collected their evidence, the next challenge is translating that evidence into action. The activities included on the Climate Project website will help students choose a Solution from their Grand Challenge, organize their research, and choose an Action Opportunity for a target audience such as their school, local city council, peers, or other stakeholders in their community. The goal is to compile everything they’ve learned about their chosen Solution into a presentation that can help their community contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. While lowering emissions is not an easy task, their work is essential to helping prevent a climate disaster. 

What strategies do you use to help students develop their data literacy, research, or presentation skills? Share your ideas by posting in the OER Project Teacher Community! 

About the author: Bridgette Byrd O’Connor holds a DPhil in history from the University of Oxford and taught the Big History Project and World History Project courses and AP US government and politics for 10 years at the high-school level. In addition, she’s been a freelance writer and editor for the Crash Course World History and US History curricula. She’s currently a content manager for the OER Project. 

Cover image: Digital generated image of sustainable growing bar chart made out of cubes and multiple environments showing transforming process from coal industry to green energy. Sustainability data concept. © Andriy Onufriyenko / Moment / Getty Images. 

  • @BridgetteByrdO'Connor,  Bridgette, thank you for sharing this well-written article that includes important target information and a challenge for OER teachers.  The initial group of photos caught my attention.  Here is west Michigan, we have great examples of humans using various resources for energy:  indigenous people and the use of sod, early Europeans and the use of wood, a windmill from The Netherlands and the use of wind power, later groups and use of coal, the city of Holland and the use of natural gas, South Haven's nuclear power plant, various fields of solar panel, numerous large wind turbines, in addition to other life species use of chemosynthesis and photosynthesis.  The energy grab is apparent to our students.  I continue to find some good approaches to develop an effective unit of study so my Big Historians can develop a better understanding of these changes over time.  The call for stronger literacies is also important.  Our students read the book What the Eyes Don't See, which shares the story of the Flint water crisis (here is a teachers guide that I and others developed,  Students were able to share their knowledge of the book with the public (table displays which included websites developed by students who talked with adults from the community).  The process that you develop in the article is also convenient to see in the documentary Racing Extinction, which connects very well to the BHP Unit 5.