Combining Science and Journalism Education To Address Climate Change

By Associate Professor Ron Yaros

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (Feb. 21) – How can future scientists explain climate change to future journalists and how can journalists better understand the science?  Those were the key questions explored in a one-year experimental study titled “ScienceBEAT,” conducted by a collaborative team of researchers from four University of Maryland colleges and six teachers from three Prince George’s Public High Schools in 2016.  High schools included DuVal, Northwestern, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

The objectives of the study were to test whether collaborative teaching and learning  by science and journalism students would enhance their: (1) Interest and engagement in science, (2) Understanding of climate change, and (3) Communication of scientific information to a general audience.

The University of Maryland team included:  principal co-investigators Ronald Yaros in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism and Ross Salawitch from the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science (CMNS), plus Wayne Slater in the College of Education, Amir Sapkota in the School of Public Health, and Timothy Canty from Atmospheric and Oceanic Science (CMNS) The team met regularly to develop a set of classroom lessons for each of the six ScienceBEAT “modules” that addressed the predictions and consequences of climate change and their effects on human health. The final module prompted students to consider possible solutions and responses to climate change.

One of the unique aspects of the ScienceBEAT initiative was the presentation of each science lesson in science classrooms while teachers in journalism classrooms simultaneously presented the journalism lesson about the same topic. The set of lessons in each module was designed to synthesize learning among 607 students in both types of classrooms using the latest research and topics related to climate. Subsequent “interviews” of a science student by a journalism student guided both to succinctly – but accurately – explain climate change.

Pre and post testing of the students in the three high schools indicated a statistically significant increase in the students’ understanding of key climate change concepts. “Results from this project illustrate the many benefits of a mutually beneficial collaboration between several departments across campus and local high schools,” said Ronald Yaros, associate professor in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism.  “ScienceBEAT also provides unique opportunities for our future citizens to learn science and effective communication of science.”

Results from the pilot study, which was funded by UMD’s senior vice president and provost office and the Council on the Environment, are now included in subsequent proposals for external funding to expand ScienceBEAT beyond Maryland.  More information can be found at www.sciencebeat.org.