Teachers disseminate the latest climate research around the world

How to talk about climate change to pupils in school? In early August, 30 teachers from more than 20 countries arrived in Finland for a week-long summer camp to familiarise themselves with the latest research on climate change and how to handle the issue in their teaching. One of the participants was Emma Santarcangelo from Italy.

Emma Santarcangelo, a teacher, was lucky to be among the more than a hundred applicants from the Teachers’ Climate Change Forum online course, organised by the University of Helsinki, chosen for the contact teaching period held at Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station. She teaches Italian, history and geography to lower secondary school pupils in Benevento, Italy.

In the online course, participants learn to discuss climate change in their teaching in a versatile and sensible manner from the perspective of a range of scientific disciplines. According to Santarcangelo, the key insight gained on the course was the adoption of scientific thinking.

Among the methods learned she intends to introduce at her school are the use of drama and role-play. Over the course, she also realised how important it is to continuously adapt one’s own teaching methods on the basis of feedback.

Overall idea of climate change

Over the course, Santarcangelo became aware of how climate change will affect human migration. At the summer camp, she had the opportunity to visit INAR (Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research), a centre of top-level atmospheric research which measures aerosol particle and greenhouse gas concentrations and variance in the atmosphere at Hyytiälä.

“It was fascinating to see how problems caused by climate change are being perceived from such a wide range of perspectives, making it extremely difficult to form a bigger picture. A risk in one sector is not even seen in another sector. We really need a global overall idea and ethics for this issue,” Santarcangelo notes.

Academy Professor Markku Kulmala is one of the researchers whom the course participants got to meet. In his presentation, Kulmala emphasised the importance of teachers and education in curbing climate change.

To her school, Santarcangelo intends to take with her a guidebook for teachers in which climate change is described through exercises and visualisation relevant to individual school subjects.

Self-efficacy put to a test

Not for nothing is Finland providing education in climate change to teachers, as we have the potential to be among the leading countries in terms of research focused on climate change and science education.

Another theme at the Hyytiälä camp was the development of science education, with a particular focus on the self-efficacy of teachers, examined through interviews and measurements. A research article to be published internationally is in the works. Climate change is an emotive subject, making it necessary to take pupils’ beliefs and attitudes into account in teaching.

“Many teachers are uncertain about their ability to talk about climate change,” says Professor Maija Aksela, the coordinator of the course from the University of Helsinki.

Insights are rewarding and sharing promotes learning

Teacher Emma Santarcangelo believes that the most challenging aspect of science education, to both teachers and pupils, is learning by doing. At the same time, it is also the most rewarding aspect. Witnessing pupils gain insights by seeing something actually happen after studying the theory is worth every effort.

One of the mottoes of the course is ‘learning by sharing’. The aim is to establish an international network for climate change teaching. At least the network formed by teachers of various educational levels and school subjects at the summer camp will continue sharing experiences through a Facebook group established at the wish of the participants.

According to Aksela, the first Teachers’ Climate Change Forum online course and summer camp were so successful that the intention is to continue both annually, resources permitting.

Further information

Course description

Maija Aksela, director of LUMA Centre Finland, professor/University of Helsinki, phone +358 50 514 1450, maija.aksela@helsinki.fi

Other individuals contributing to the course included Mikko Äijälä and Laura Riuttanen, postdoctoral researchers at INAR, the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research; Tapio Rasa, science education coordinator for physics; Laura Ihalainen, science education coordinator for the arts; Oona Kiviluoto, science education coordinator for chemistry; Topias Ikävalko, general coordinator and Jaana Herranen, a doctoral student from the University of Helsinki.

Teachers at the Hyytiälä summer camp gained an ample amount of information on climate change and related teaching methods. Emma Santarcangelo, blond hair, sits on the right-hand side of the second row.

The teachers also had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the equipment at Hyytiälä, which are used to measure, among other things, aerosol particle and greenhouse gas concentrations and variance.