School Program Enhancing Climate Change Literacy through Hands-On Learning

Western Sydney University

Western Sydney University experts are among an international team who developed a technology-enhanced learning program found to increase climate change literacy among 79 per cent of primary school students and 62 per cent of secondary school students.

With the results of the initiative published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Review, 'Heat-Cool' led by the University of Surrey was co-designed and successfully implemented in five primary and secondary UK schools as an engaging learning tool to bolster student interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.

The study monitored the learning outcomes of 103 students from two cohorts (years 5-6 and 7-9) who participated in five Heat-Cool activity sessions. The students' climate change literacy was assessed through quizzes before and after the sessions.

Co-author Associate Professor Sebastian Pfautsch, School of Social Sciences and Urban Transformations Research Centre at Western Sydney University, said the initiative encouraged students to use infrared cameras to explore and learn about the urban heat island effect.

"This hands-on and research-informed program has proven effective at engaging students about a phenomenon where urban built-up areas lacking green spaces experience higher temperatures than the surrounding rural areas. It is great to see the positive effect of the program on climate change education. Every child should have access to it, empowering them to become climate change aware," said Associate Professor Pfautsch.

In the sessions, the pupils took more than 2,000 infrared images, which the researchers categorised into 13 common themes. Interestingly, primary school children tended to create selfie images, while secondary school pupils were more engaged with their physical environment.

Co-author Professor Kathryn Holmes, School of Education and Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University, said the program importantly focused on skill building across the STEM areas.

"To empower students around climate change issues, it will be necessary to reverse the declining interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in schools in the UK and other countries, as STEM skills will be critical when designing effective mitigation solutions for climate change," said Professor Holmes.

Professor Prashant Kumar, lead author of the study, the founding Director of the Global Centre for Clean Air Research and the Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainability at the University of Surrey, said, "arming our children with the necessary knowledge and skills to understand and eventually help fight climate change is critical to nursing our planet back to health."

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