HYDROFRACKING, CLIMATE CHANGE, AND, EVOLUTION OUTREACH YIELD RULES OF THUMB
FOR ADDRESSING CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES
The Paleontological Research Institution has a long history of nurturing public understanding of controversial issues. PRI’s 13-year-old Museum of the Earth is built around the idea of evolution, and evolution education stretches back long before that. For more than a decade, PRI has engaged in climate change education, and, for the last several years, we have been engaged in energy education rooted in the science related to slickwater high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). These issues share common characteristics, and common rules of thumb are derived from our extensive work on teaching controversial issues. There are, however, differences amongst these issues and amongst the approaches that should be used in building understandings that can yield informed decisions.
Controversial issues tend to be interdisciplinary in nature; complex; play out across multiple scales of time and/or space; and are made difficult to understand by cognitive biases. Climate change and evolution share the characteristic of grounding in areas of consensus science. While there is consensus that HVHF causes environmental harm there is no consensus as to whether the environmental costs associated with HVHF are lesser or greater than those associated with other ways of generating energy on the scale currently required by modern society.
Rules of thumb for teaching about controversial issues include recognizing that: while grounding in evidence is essential, a focus simply upon the related science is insufficient to build understanding; effective approaches for certain audiences may backfire to the point of deepening misconceptions and related convictions if used with other audiences; reframing questions away from the most obvious and most polarizing questions is often helpful; argument in the traditional sense (and potentially advocacy in the traditional sense) may deepen convictions more than understandings; and; attending to issues of scale with familiar examples and user-friendly analogies can deepen understanding.
Don Duggan-Haas is the Director of Teacher Programs at PRI and its Museum of the Earth & Cayuga Nature Center in Ithaca, NY. Don’s work in teacher education, teacher professional development and curriculum materials development marries deep understandings of how people learn with deep understandings of the Earth system. He is a nationally regarded expert in place-based and technology-rich Earth and environmental science education, especially as related to the use of Virtual Fieldwork Experiences (VFEs). VFEs are multi-media representations of actual field sites ideally created by teachers and students working together. He also has expertise in climate and energy education and is co-author of the book, *The Science Beneath the Surface: A Very Short Guide to the Marcellus Shale.* He served on the Earth & Space Science Design Team for the National Research Council’s *A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas *and currently serves as the Second Vice President of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. Don has taught at Colgate, Cornell, and Michigan State Universities, Kalamazoo College, and Tapestry and Norwich (New York) High Schools.