Research Summary

Building teachers’ self-efficacy in teaching about climate change through educative curriculum and professional development

Professional development program builds confidence in teaching climate change

Applied Environmental Education & Communication
2021

Professional development for educators is important in order to better teach about various current events involving the environment and society. In many cases, professional development programs assume that teachers will take the learned knowledge and skills and apply it to their students with ease. However, with rising issues such as climate change, educators may require more tailored content and teaching strategies to build confidence to teach these complex issues and solutions to students. It is critical that teachers not only understand climate change better, but also gain pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), meaning they also understand how to teach about climate change. The goal of this study was to understand and provide recommendations for educator self-efficacy specific to climate change education through various learning materials, online materials, and educator workshops.

There are four common strategies to improve self-efficacy in teachers. These include, 1) enactive mastery experience (mastering climate science content); 2) vicarious experience (observing other educators); 3) verbal/social persuasion (hearing and seeing that others have been successful in implementing climate change education); and 4) physiological and affective states (emotional readiness to teach the subject). The researchers in this study designed climate change education curriculum in addition to corresponding professional development workshops to improve educators’ self-efficacy for teaching it. The curriculum taught in the workshops aimed to engage participants with specific topics, understand participant’s thoughts about climate change, encourage participants to ask questions, encourage them to collect and analyze data, create explanations from the data and encourage communicating with one another about their results, all while learning more about the general subject of climate change. The workshops were a safe and positive environmental for educators, and included demonstration of the curriculum and peer teaching opportunities

This study focused on facilitators and the participants, who were also educators. It started with a pilot program with 17 science teachers from Florida in the summer of 2014 to test the effectiveness of the professional development on teaching the curriculum and improving self-efficacy, this workshop was led by the researchers. Since the pilot was successful in the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015, the researchers launched phase one of the program where they had 3 train-the-trainer workshops led by researchers of 96 participants (mostly nonformal educators) in North Carolina, Florida, and Arkansas. Of those, 85 participants completed a pre and post survey. These now-facilitators then led 56 workshops for 867 educators in fall 2015 and spring 2016 from across the US. In total, 621 participants completed the pre and post surveys and it was noted that 42% were classroom teachers, 55% were informal instructors, and about 3% were unknown. Additionally, 55% had not previously had climate change education as part of their curriculum. Teachers’ self-efficacy was measured through a new 10-item scale created by the researchers called the Climate Change Education Teacher Efficacy Belief Instrument (CCETEBI). The pre-survey had seven questions about the facilitator’s readiness to teach climate change, the CCETEBI, and about their experience as an educator. The post-survey had four questions, mostly open-ended including one about questions they still had about teaching about climate change, another to reflect on the quality of the workshop, one for future workshop recommendations, and lastly the CCETEBI. The researchers then reviewed the data through multiple statistical analyses.

The results showed that there was a drastic increase in overall self-efficacy in all participants regarding educating students about climate change, in both the researcher and facilitator led workshops. A high increase in self-efficacy on a few questions in the survey suggested the workshop and materials particularly helped teachers understand climate change and feel prepared to teach it, such as through using examples. When comparing teachers from a classroom and teachers who teach in informal settings, there was higher self-efficacy in both the pre and post survey with teachers from a classroom. However, both groups had overall improvement in their survey scores from the pre and post survey, meaning that the workshops had positive impacts on the self-efficacy of both groups. Moreover, these results showed that while teaching about climate change can be difficult, providing professional development to educators greatly increases their confidence and self-efficacy to feel they can successfully teach the subject to their students. The workshops allowed educators to ask as many questions as they wanted and learn from their peers.

There are limitations to this study. Although there was a large sample size, this study only took place in the US, so the diversity of viewpoints from different countries is not present. Insight to developing self-efficacy in teachers could be gained through the same process in other countries that do not learn as much about climate change education.

Professional development is crucial for classroom teachers to be sure they are teaching subject matter that is relevant to the present-day. This holds true even more for environmental sciences like climate change, because there is a constant influx of research that is always evolving. Professional development is crucial for classroom teachers to be sure they are teaching subject matter that is relevant to the present-day. This holds true even more for environmental sciences like climate change, because there is a constant influx of research that is always evolving. This study showed that professional development workshops that target self-efficacy and PCK are beneficial to teachers. The four components of the researchers’ project included a climate change education curriculum, hands-on professional development workshops, supplemental materials for teachers, and additional online support for teachers. This well-designed approach positively influenced self-efficacy.

The Bottom Line

Climate change is a difficult topic for educators and many lack the self-efficacy to teach it. Professional development can improve teaching skills and help educators with climate change education. The goal of this study was to further understand and provide recommendations for educators' self-efficacy specific to climate change education through various learning materials, online materials, and educator workshops. The researchers first taught 96 teachers the curriculum through train-the-trainer workshops. These teachers then led 56 workshops for 867 educators in Fall 2015-Spring 2016 from various states in the US. A pre and post survey was used to assess the participants’ self-efficacy and quality of the workshops. The results showed an increase in teacher’s overall self-efficacy regarding educating students about climate change. Moreover, these results showed that providing professional development and well-designed, supportive curriculum to educators greatly increases their confidence and self-efficacy to successfully teach climate change to their students.