Dalton Middle School science teacher Sarah Ott is embarking on a journey that will put Dalton on a world stage in the context of science education. Ott was one of ten teachers selected out of 100 candidates across the country to serve as a climate change ambassador for the National Center for Science Education and to attend the "Turning Misconceptions into Educational Opportunities" workshop.
The experience has significant benefits for Dalton students. When Ott arrived at the TMEO workshop in Washington D.C. on March 1, she attended a day of training at George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication with Director John Cook to learn about his research on combatting misconceptions, recognizing misinformation and helping teachers effectively communicate with the public about the science of climate education.
Ott said to be chosen as an ambassador is an immense honor. She will serve as a liaison between the NCSE and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication in the local area by sharing resources with teachers and holding trainings with other school districts.
"I'm excited and ready for all the doors this opportunity opens for me and our community. This is a global problem that requires a concerted effort from all of the nations. The world is very interested in what is going on," said Ott. "I think this is an amazing opportunity to take us a step further as Dalton looks to become a world-class center for education."
This year's cohort of teachers is the second group to work with John Cook's research. Last year, the first cohort of climate change ambassadors developed five lessons that will help communicate the science of climate change effectively. This year's cohort will take those lessons and share and adapt them for the local community. The last lesson in particular is region-based to educate different populations on the effects of climate change in their local area.
Ott's students will also have the honor of participating in a research study with George Mason's Center for Climate Change Communication. Ott will deliver the created lessons to her students after Georgia Milestones testing. She will administer a pre-test to gauge the students' attitudes on climate change and follow up with a post-test to determine the effectiveness of the lessons. Those results will be sent to the University to further their research.
Ott said her classes have studied the scientific process all year and she is excited for her students to see it applied in a real-world example. "This is a great opportunity for our kids to develop a relationship with an actual scientist who is doing real-world research, and I'm hoping that if they see it immolated for them, it will become something in their realm of possibility," she said. "If they see the frame of mind they have been learning in class applied to an actual problem, it may come together for them in a way that is really profound."
The core of the lessons are targeted directly toward developing critical thinking skills. They are meant to help kids spot misinformation and determine when they are being purposefully misled.
"What we want to do is help our students see when they are being purposefully misled by unreliable sources. Who is doing the misleading and what incentive do they have for doing that misleading? It is vitally important for becoming a citizen of the world to be skeptical and to use those critical thinking skills," Ott explained. "There's nothing I care more about than having my students think of themselves as citizens of Dalton, citizens of Georgia, citizens of the United States, but then also citizens of the world. Because whether we want to acknowledge it or not, our choices have an impact on the world. It is very important to me to make sure that my students are having a helpful, healthy and kind impact on the world."
Ott was contacted by the NCSE shortly after the workshop to speak with an Associated Press reporter and a reporter from Japan. The international community is interested in the state of climate education in the United States. However, it is typically difficult for international reporters to find an expert to speak with that is knowledgeable in the field of education. This process will connect the ambassadors with those reporters who are trying to get a glimpse of the bigger picture.
After receiving a blatantly misleading book in her teacher mailbox, Ott planned to write a blog post about debunking fallacies in the book and demonstrating why it is not a reliable source. Then she received this opportunity to develop lessons for a national stage that teachers from all over America can use to combat misinformation.
"This is a way bigger opportunity than anything I was going to be able to do on my own," she said.
Ott said it was wonderful to network with the scientists at NCSE and George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication and talk with other educators who had amazing ideas for the classroom. "Having access to that wealth of knowledge, from John Cook to the ten other accomplished educators, was an amazing experience," she said. "We are taking the misconceptions and the misinformation out there and turning it into opportunities for our students to learn, grow and become more skeptical and more informed citizens."