Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Refutation Texts for Effective Climate Change Education

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Refutation Texts for Effective Climate Change Education

Article excerpt


Although misconceptions can develop in a number of content areas, they are especially prevalent in the sciences and can be extremely hard to overcome (Thijs, 1992; Shymansky et al., 1997). Learning about climate change is no exception. Despite the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists regarding the existence, causes, and effects of climate change, and the present public focus, it is still a controversial topic among much of the public, and misconceptions abound (McCaffrey and Buhr, 2008; Miller, 2012).

Research indicates that students may generalize major environmental issues and are often unsuccessful at distinguishing the problems from each other and separating the distinct mechanisms involved in each issue (Francis et al., 1993; Keller, 2006). For instance, students often confuse the natural greenhouse effect, global warming, and ozone depletion (Dunlop, 1998; Keller, 2006). Between reliance on their own experiences to make sense of scientific phenomena and their difficulty differentiating between weather and climate, it is not uncommon for students to use weather as "proof" for, or against, climate change (Vosniadou and Brewer, 1992; Sinatra et al., 2012). Students need some understanding of climate change-related subjects to overcome some misconceptions they may have acquired through the media, personal experience, and in other ways.

As indicated by Lombardi et al. (2013), the science of climate change is complex. People hold inaccurate conceptions about climate systems in general; for example, they hold misconceptions regarding the distinction between climate and weather, as well as regarding the causes, effects, and mitigation of climate change (Choi et al., 2010; Dutt and Gonzalez, 2012; Lombardi and Sinatra, 2012). Therefore, it may be necessary, in climate science, as in much of science education, to use instructional tools specially designed to counter misconceptions and encourage students to think about other perspectives or alternate conceptions (Vosniadou, 2008; Sinatra and Broughton, 2011).

One such instructional tool that may be particularly effective is refutation text. Traditional expository texts, which only explain concepts, are typically the texts used in science education, and students often have a hard time understanding them (McKeown et al., 1992). Consequently, they are often relatively ineffective at inducing students to change their conceptions (McKeown et al., 1992). Refutation texts, however, activate common misconceptions, explicitly refute them, and then state the correct or preferred conception; these texts can, therefore, be very effective for encouraging students to change their conceptions (Guzzetti et al., 1993; Hynd, 2001). An example of such a text is shown in Table I.

Three decades of research have overwhelmingly demonstrated that refutation texts are much more effective at eliminating misconceptions and changing learners' conceptions than traditional expository texts are (Guzzetti et al. 1993, Hynd and Alvermann, 1986; Diakidoy et al., 2003; Broughton and Sinatra, 2010; Tippett, 2010; Ariasi and Mason, 2011). Research also indicates that changes in conceptual understanding induced through refutation text are also more likely to be maintained over time (Hynd et al., 1994, 1997; Mason and Gava, 2007; Frede, 2008), and that refutation texts are generally preferred by learners (Guzzetti et al., 1997; Hynd, 2001; Mason et al., 2008). According to the coactivation hypothesis (Van den Broek and Kendeou, 2008), refutation texts work because they activate the misconception and correct the conception simultaneously; therefore, readers are more likely to become aware of the discrepancy between them. In addition, the refutation statement likely directs the learner's attention toward the new information to be learned, leading the learner to use cognitive strategies to resolve the conflict and to integrate the new, correct information into their understanding of a concept (Ariasi and Mason, 2011). …

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