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 explore the causes, impacts, and solutions to climate change. Students will also want to take into account their backgrounds, experiences, community values, and more. But only quantitative evidence can help them answer important questions like what solutions will make the most impact or where the effects of rising temperatures will have the greatest impact. 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. The course data explorations present an opportunity 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 articles and videos and providing evidence students can use to support their own arguments. The data in these articles help students build their own understanding of the causes of climate change, how it’s impacts are being felt, and the best paths to an equitable, zero-carbon future. As an example, below is an excerpt from the Climate Project's Data Exploration: Direct Impacts of Climate Change.

Records from coral and ocean sediment cores tell us that for most of the last 2,000 years, as temperatures stabilized after the last ice age, sea levels have remained relatively consistent. Around the turn of the twentieth century, that changed: sea levels suddenly started to climb, and they haven’t stopped. From 1900 to 1993, historical tide records tell us that sea levels rose by four to five inches. In the 30 years between 1993 to 2023, the trend accelerated as sea levels rose another four inches.

Of course, while we provide students with articles and videos from trusted sources, 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 “lateral reading” techniques to verify the information they encounter.

Once students have collected their evidence, the next challenge is translating that evidence into action. The activities included in Unit 5 provide options for students to organize their research to complete a climate action project. These activities include exploring climate-related careers, creating a presentation to educate others about climate change, researching and advocating for climate policy, and carrying out a civic action campaign in their community. The goal of these activities is to translate what they’ve learned about climate change into meaningful action to help shape the future they want to see.

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.