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Sustainability Around the U

GCSC Seminar: Climate Change in the Science Classroom

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office


Have you ever tried to change someone’s mind about climate change by inundating them in science and data? If you have, you’re not alone—but Dr. Lynne Zummo, assistant professor of Educational Psychology and curator of learning sciences at the Natural History Museum, says that “if somebody is opposed to acting on climate change, sharing more science knowledge with them will probably not do the trick.”

Zummo, who spent several years as a middle and high school science teacher before earning her Ph.D. in science education, studies the learning environments and interventions that influence how people learn about climate change. On Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 4 p.m., Zummo will give a GCSC seminar called “Confronting the politics of a changing climate in the science classroom,” exploring how students do—and don’t—learn about climate change in schools.

Until recently, much of the research on climate change learning in science classrooms focused on knowledge and specific scientific concepts. “What I found in my research is that knowledge isn’t enough,” Zummo says. “It’s obviously very important for people to understand scientific concepts behind climate change, but that’s not going to solve the problems that we have socially.”

Zummo explains that peoples’ identities, social groups, beliefs, and even emotions affect what they take away from a learning experience about climate change. “There’s just so much more than science knowledge that’s involved,” she says.

Zummo discovered her love of education while pursuing a graduate degree in geology. “I went to grad school for geology and realized that the actual research side of it was not something I was interested in,” she says. “But I really enjoyed the teaching opportunities that I had as a TA, so I figured out how to get out of geology grad school and become a teacher.”

As a high school teacher, Zummo experimented with her curriculum and studied how it affected student engagement and learning outcomes. “In a way it was seeing my classroom as a little mini laboratory,” she says. “I could try new things out and see how kids responded and see what they took away from the experience.” These experiences interested Zummo in researching science education, and her findings will be the focus of her GCSC Seminar on Tuesday.

Zummo hopes her talk will remind audience members that young people are “not just little empty vessels to be filled with knowledge.”

“Kids come to the classroom with well-developed ideas, and strong ideas about who they are,” Zummo says. “It’s easy for adults to ignore that or forget about that, but if we really want to improve science education—and improve education generally—I think we have to have to do some work around understanding who kids are.”

Tune in on November 16 at 4 p.m. for a glimpse into Zummo’s research on science education and the complexities of teaching about climate change.