Grant to allow schools to teach climate change

By Robbie Ward/MSU University Relations

STARKVILLE – More than 75 classrooms around the state will learn more about climate change as part of a National Science Foundation grant that includes a partnership between Mississippi State, the University of Texas, Michigan State University and a nonprofit, educational software company.
Designed to improve high school students’ knowledge of climate change, the four-year project will involve students and teachers from throughout Mississippi and Texas.
Karen McNeal, the primary investigator for the grant and an assistant professor in MSU’s geosciences department, said the goal of the $2.5 million NSF Discovery Research K-12 project is to train teachers to use modules created through the program for their classrooms and then review students’ work to determine how well they learned the material.
“We want to see teachers using the resources and students engaged in them,” McNeal said. “As this happens, we’ll use information collected to improve the material by creating better ways to teach climate change.”
The NSF grant will allow researchers to create computer modules on climate change that complement hands-on lessons high school teachers use in their classrooms. TERC, the nonprofit assisting with the project, will post online climate change modules at http://serc.carleton.edu/earthlabs/.
The curriculum developed will comply with standards for laboratory-based high school science education and support a better understanding of climate literacy.
Partner schools and teachers are in the process of being selected. Beginning this summer, the first training session for Mississippi teachers will involve about six to eight instructors engaging in the curriculum and providing feedback during the online materials development.
As more workshops are held on the curriculum, the project will expand over time to up to 100 teachers, McNeal said. During the 2012 and 2013 academic school years, teachers will incorporate the material in their classrooms, she added.
As part of the evaluation of student work, McNeal and other researchers will examine challenges students face in learning about climate change, including misconceptions of the science, along with identifying particular graphs and other visual aids to examine how students learn the material.
Researchers will use eye-tracking devices to analyze how students view material on computer screens.
With project participation from two states, McNeal said a long-term goal will be to include teachers in all states to teach the curriculum. To help achieve this, all material created, including presentations teachers create, will be posted online for others to use.
As part of the research community, McNeal sees this as an opportunity to teach and inform the public about the values of science.
“We’re teaching the scientific method through climate change,” McNeal said. “We want students to be able to interpret data and make their own decisions.”

– For more information, contact Dr. Karen McNeal at (662) 268-1032 or ksm163@msstate.edu.
For additional information about research at Mississippi State, visit

http://www.research.msstate.edu.