A Preliminary Study of Students' Asking Quantitative Scientific Questions for Inquiry-Based Climate Model Experiments

Article excerpt


The cognitive apprenticeship method is used to promote conceptual learning in climate science by encouraging student inquiry, which literature shows to be conducive to learning a multi-faceted topic. A course was taught with this approach, whereby students conducted their own research using an up-to-date user-friendly climate model. Five topics addressed in this class are investigated here: Earth Radiation Budget and Clouds, Greenhouse Effect, Ozone, Aerosols and Surface Processes. Assigned reading served as the basis for individual questions, while lectures and discussions helped to define group research questions and associated projects whose results were presented in class. Our analysis of students' questions shows improvement in students' ability to formulate questions in terms of the variable's applicability to the model. Mid-range and low-scoring students showed abrupt and gradual improvement, respectively, while higher-scoring students tended to immediately and consistently perform well. Due to the limited data set for this pilot study, these patterns of improvement are used only as an indication that conceptual learning has taken place. Nevertheless, the results of this study will aid in the experimental design of the next class offering.


While climate change research is evolving rapidly with the growing recognition of the importance and urgency of the topic, the teaching of climate change science is still in its infancy. Whereas climate change science encompasses many disciplines, it has some specific aspects that warrant addressing its instructional needs separately from other disciplines. Those separate aspects mostly cover the treatment of the Earth as a system, and the integration of inquiries into areas that span a broad spectrum from the physical and human sides of Earth science and geography, including socioeconomic and policy aspects. No curriculum has yet been endorsed by the emerging climate change education community, and much of the climate change science teaching is still experimental with few publications specific to climate change science instruction available in the literature.

Climate change science is clearly developing as a socially situated scientific practice with the value of knowledge claims being regularly argued and negotiated within the scientific community. The best example of this social construction is the regular publication of the scientific assessment of the state of the climate by a large (thousands) and broad international group of experts reporting to the United Nations (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change - IPCC,

1992,1996, 2001). When viewing scientific practice as a socially situated practice and when dealing with a field that is rapidly evolving, one approach to learning is the model of cognitive apprenticeship (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989, Collins, Hawkins and Carver, 1991). With this approach, to learn science is to be apprenticed into the reasoning and discursive practices of particular scientific communities, and the responsibility of the instructor is to facilitate knowledge construction in the ways that are most relevant to the learner. The key features of cognitive apprenticeship are: modeling, coaching, authentic performance of knowledge and skills, and student reflection (metacognition). One of the expected outcomes of cognitive apprenticeship in science is students trained to ask and think like scientists, through exposure to scientific practices, without these practices explicitly being taught to them. The expectation is that repeated exposure to scientific practices will allow students to go beyond learning science content to experiencing and learning about the processes of science. The belief is that the more authentic the scientific practice, the more likely students will learn about aspects of scientific inquiry (Barab & Hay, 2001; Ritchie & Rigano, 1996).

One of the critical practices or science in general that also exists in climate change science is that of asking questions. …