3rd annual Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum


Photos by KC McGinnis

Nick Fetty | October 9, 2015

More than thirty scientists, students, and educators attended the third annual Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum Friday at Des Moines University.

Iowa State University agronomy professor Brian Hornbuckle was the first to present, discussing ways to teach about the effects of greenhouse gas.

“The greenhouse effect is such an essential part of climate change [and] we need to make sure we teach about it correctly,” said Hornbuckle.

Hornbuckle teaches Introduction to Weather and Climate at Iowa State, a roughly 300-student lecture consisting mostly of freshmen. He said his focus is to dispel incorrect notions that his students may have about the greenhouse effect.

“The greenhouse effect is both a good and a bad thing,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to live here if we didn’t have the greenhouse effect and I think it’s surprising for students to hear that. It’s a good thing and it’s essential for life but too much of a good thing can be bad.”

One of Horkbuckle’s teaching techniques is through the use of song. He changed the lyrics of Journey’s “Wheel in the Sky” to “The radiators in the sky keep on burning” as a catchy way to get through to his students.

David Courard-Hauri, an associate professor of environmental science and policy, discussed his Science and Policy of Climate course at Drake University. The course focuses on the intersection of science, social, and political issues in regard to climate.

“The question is how do we teach scale and feasibility?” asked Courard-Hauri.

One component of the course is a role-playing exercise in which students take on the role of a different country or interest group and how they would approach climate-related policy. Students use quantitative data to come up with policy suggestions which helps them to identify the scale of certain measures as well as the potential costs and costs savings of such measures.

“The idea is to encourage them to look for win-win scenarios,” said Courard-Hauri. “I feel they get a better sense of just doing a little good isn’t enough to get us where we want to go and that’s the main idea I try to get across.”

Grinnell College political science professor Wayne Moyer discussed his Applied Policy Analysis Climate Change course, which is composed of about 20 undergraduates. Students are required to read two books: Why We Disagree About Climate Change by Mike Hulme and Global Warming Gridlock by David G. Victor. The courses focuses on the intersection of science, economics, and politics. Moyer emphasized that scientific research is crucial for policy change.

“When you don’t know things exactly that creates policy problems,” he said.

The course also focuses on obstacles for implementing policies to address climate change, such as reasons for why people disagree about the issue usually involving their values, beliefs, and fears. One assignment requires students to persuade a skeptic that climate change is real. Moyer said that one of his students, who now serves on a republican congressional staff in Washington D.C., was the lone skeptic in his class and that this student brought an interesting perspective to the course.

“He listened to people on the other side and contributed lot. It was real asset,” said Moyer.

The morning part of the forum was rounded out with a series of shorter presentations. University of Iowa chemical engineering professor Charlie Stainer discussed his upper-level undergrad course, Green Chemical and Energy Technologies. University of Dubuque environmental chemistry professor Adam Hoffman discussed carbon dioxide and ocean acidification and effective techniques for teaching these concepts to students. The morning session concluded with a presentation from DMACC representatives who discussed ways in which their campuses have taken measures to reduce their carbon footprint.

Representatives from eight different Iowa colleges and universities attended the event including University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, Drake University, University of Dubuque, Grinnell College, Des Moines Area Community College, and Southwest Community College.

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