Images of Polar Bears and Penguins, Storms, Deforestation and More - Middle School Students Perceptions of Climate Change 

Monday, 15 December 2014
Sucharita Gopal, Eli K Melaas, Michael Malmrose and Asher Mullokandov, Boston University, Boston, MA, United States
Global change studies aim to foster a deeper understanding of the causes and consequences of global change on planet Earth. The study of global change presents a rich domain of inquiry, exploration, and discovery at all grade levels. The main objective of this exploratory study was to assess middle school students’ perceptions of global change as part of their participation in the NSF GK12 program called GLACIER (Global Change Initiative – Education and Research) during the academic year 2012-13. The middle schools are located in the Metro Boston area. As part of the program, participating students were asked to draw pictures of their perceptions and ideas on global change. The drawings of 150 children, ages 11 to 13, were qualitatively analyzed. The analysis focused on (a) the type of concepts children chose to convey, (b) the specific context of the global change described (polar bears in floating glaciers), (c) students direct representation of anthropocentric impacts (such as pollution or deforestation), and (d) the match between students concepts and the recent IPCC reports. About 20% of the students focused on the iconic imagery of the melting glaciers and impact on animals such as penguins and polar bears, more than 25% focused on natural disasters (such as storms, sea level changes) while 30% focused on urban problems. These concepts are matched with the recent IPCC report. These results are notable and suggest students in middle schools understand the varied dimensions of global change and the role of human activities in bringing about change. Students’ perspectives may help in developing a suitable curriculum using existing science standards to discuss this significant topic in middle school classrooms. In addition, students’ drawings illustrate their perception of the coupled human and natural systems.