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(L-R) Assistant Professor Karen Woodruff, Ph.D., research assistant Rick Esner and Professor Daniela Shebitz, Ph.D. © Kean University

Kean University Students Call for Better Climate Change Education in High Schools

Kean University student survey provides data on climate change understanding

Published on March 21, 2024

Preliminary findings from a survey conducted by researchers at Kean University suggest that high schools need to improve their efforts in educating students on climate change. The research project is a collaboration between Professor Daniela Shebitz, Ph.D., who chairs the Department of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, and Assistant Professor Karen Woodruff, Ph.D., from the Department of Elementary and Physical Education. The purpose of the project is to measure students’ understanding of climate change and its impact on the environment, as part of a broader research project on climate change education.

“The idea of the survey is to see how our students consider climate change, understand the causes and consequences of our changing climate on a local and global scale, and take actions to lower their environmental impact,” Shebitz said. “One of our goals is to have students more aware of the connection between our health and our air, our water and the overall environment.”

Over 875 students have completed the survey, and the researchers aim to gather data from 1,000 students by the end of this month. The survey was modeled after one developed at Yale University and covers topics such as global warming and sustainability, policy changes, and individual actions to combat climate change. The researchers plan to use the survey’s findings to shape future initiatives both on and off campus. The Yale Climate Survey authors have given Kean researchers permission to use their tool, allowing for comparisons between Kean students and over 100,000 respondents globally.

According to preliminary findings, Kean students are more likely than others to believe in global warming and attribute it to human activity. They also express a desire for schools to increase climate change education. Rick Esner, a Kean graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, is one of the research assistants on the project.

“I think it is possible for all careers and fields to prioritize sustainability in the work that they do,” he said. “The importance of educating the future generation on the environment and our impact as a society on it cannot be understated, and I am glad I get to be part of something that helps with that education.”

The researchers are conducting a climate change survey as part of a broader initiative to help K-12 educators integrate climate change education into the school curriculum in New Jersey. In 2020, New Jersey became the first state in the U.S. to mandate that climate change be taught in core content areas across different subjects in public schools. As part of the collaborative research project, K-12 teachers are invited to attend a climate change education workshop at Kean University on Friday, April 19.

“Climate change is the most interdisciplinary context for learning the content we teach students in school – math, science, language arts, visual and performing arts, world languages and more,” Woodruff said. “Everything we teach in school can be done in the context of our interactions as humans with the natural world.”

The event will include workshops and a keynote address by Sarah Sterling-Laldee, the senior climate change education advisor of the New Jersey Department of Education. The researchers organizing the event will also collect data on what teachers in New Jersey require to incorporate climate change education into their work. The researchers are enthusiastic about the prospect of integrating climate change education into both K-12 and higher education classrooms.

“We’ve been working with the local school districts for a very long time on getting people more excited to integrate sustainability into different curricula,” Shebitz said. “We see this research project as a terrific opportunity to marry our disciplines of education and science, and also to convey to others that only through an interdisciplinary lens can we effectively communicate the complexity of climate change.”

Staff Writer