PS 22-76 - Prove it to yourself: A climate change exercise for non-majors

Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Exhibit Hall, Oregon Convention Center
Melinda A Fowler, Biology/Chemistry Department, Springfield College, Springfield, MA

Given the recent political shift away from evidence based climate change, effective science education is critical-- especially for students who are not necessarily science majors. The ability of non-scientist citizens to have a thorough understanding of climate evidence, as well as the ability to analyze data will prepare them to defend themselves against misinformation. Public discourse on the subject of climate change has been associated with polarization, with each side of the argument further entrenched in their beliefs. The goal of this lab exercise was to circumvent the ‘public discourse’ argument phase and allow students to prove it to themselves, using publicly available data. Students completed a ‘pre’ survey regarding their opinions about climate change. Using an exercise extensively modified from, data from publicly available sites were downloaded. Students worked with data from 20,000 years before present; variables included global temperature averages, atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide levels and human emissions data. Each group performed a set of simple analytical statistics, including the rate of change in different time frames and created summary figures. Graphs and trends created by students were summarized and presented to the class. Students were asked to draw conclusions and fill out an ‘exit’ survey.


Twenty students were enrolled in the laboratory section of an introductory biology course for non-majors. Twelve students completed both the pre and post lab surveys in a legible fashion that could be included in the analysis. Eight students stated that climate change was the result of human activities and remained with their choice after completing the exercise. Three students stated that they had never thought about climate change before and all three (100%) changed their answer to human induced activity in the exit survey. Two students stated that climate change was not related to human activities, but was a natural cycle and one of these students changed their answer to human induced. In summary 4/5 (80%) of students who did not believe climate change was human induced before the activity changed their belief to human involvement. 50% of student who reported they thought climate change was a natural cycle changed their belief to human involvement after the lab. The efficacy of this exercise was demonstrated by 80% of students altering their viewpoints after working with data. Instead of engaging in lecturing or arguing (public discourse), students were allowed to analyze publicly available data themselves, thus ‘proving it’ to themselves.