The Girls Energy Conservation Corps (GECCo) initiative: Teaching the climate benefits of energy conservation through teamwork and new media
The Girls Energy Conservation Corps project developed activity guides for Girl Scouts in Eastern Massachusetts that integrated engaging online and real world activities for girls age 8-13 to learn about energy conservation and climate change. Intended outcomes are that girls increase their knowledge of climate change and their role in it, understand the power of working together to address climate change, increase their energy conserving behaviors, and use new media creatively to educate peers about it. The program is guided by theories of behavior change, and findings from conservation psychology. The program was built on the assumption that those who move to action now can raise awareness about climate change, combat a sense of paralysis, and ultimately enlist others in behavioral changes. Activities were carefully designed to engage girls in informal learning settings, and aligned with typical activities that girls and troop leaders expect to find in a Girl Scout program. Each GECCo guide included one or two science investigations, and otherwise addressed learning goals through arts-and-crafts and “up-and-moving” activities, field trips, use of media, and electronic, card or board games. Independent researchers conducted an extensive summative evaluation involving 44 troops (483 girls), and using pre/post assessments, surveys, and observations.
Quantitative findings revealed significant changes in knowledge about climate change and energy conservation. Overall, the largest impact was an increase in energy conservation behaviors for both girls and troop leaders. The increase in girls’ awareness of how working together to make small energy savings can have an impact on climate change was slight but statistically significant. Gains in girls’ beliefs that they can make a difference in reducing climate change showed a trend but the gains were not significant. Use of new media proved to be challenging since fewer than half the troops had access to computers or the Internet, and Girl Scout culture is not oriented toward technology-based activities. Our findings suggest that a carefully designed program can address the challenges of educating children about energy conservation and climate change at this relatively young age, even if participant exposure to the program is brief. Findings also revealed developmental differences at play when using adult-tested behavior change models for youth; these are important to deconstruct in future studies when applied to youth behavior change theories. Our research illuminates the challenges that informal education settings present with respect to science education.