To raise awareness of climate change, GREENHOUSE researchers, in the School of GeoSciences, engaged secondary school students in analysing recent research data from Eddy flux co-variance towers in Dumfries. The venue for this recent workshop was in the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI). Its impact was very positive with excellent feedback from the students. Further proposals to extend this approach are planned.

Building on the existing strong links between the School of GeoSciences and local secondary schools, a workshop was developed by GREENHOUSE researchers in consultation with geography teachers.

The target group for the workshop was senior school students undertaking the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Higher Geography qualification. One of the core modules in this new qualification is 'Global Issues', a component of which is 'Climate Change'. Knowledge of climate change is not sufficient alone for this component; an ability to critically analyse research data is a crucial key skill examined both in the summative CfE Higher exam and the individual ‘Assignment’ (generating 33% of the candidate’s final grade).

At the three-hour workshop, the school students were exposed to a short introductory lecture followed by a question & answer session. The data analysis then followed in small groups with emphasis on peer group education supported by the GREENHOUSE researchers. The findings were discussed in a seminar-style session with a final short lecture that summarised the workshop.

For the first short lecture, the students were encouraged to review their prior knowledge from previous geography and science teaching on greenhouse gases, the carbon & nitrogen cycles and the interaction of photosynthesis and respiration. They were then introduced to the current research being carried out locally in Dumfries.

  • Evaluation by the 56 students attending found that 98% understood the lecture whilst 78% stated that practice at note taking was useful.

In the second phase of the workshop, the school students were challenged to discover, 'How does weather affect CO2 fluxes?'

Using GREENHOUSE generated  'Guide to Graphs' and 'Guide to Statistics’, small cohorts of school students were set up to analyse the data. Each student member of the cohort plotted different aspects of the data and the individual findings were then presented and shared with the other students in the cohort. With the help of GREENHOUSE staff, pooling the information from the different data plots helped elucidate the significance of their findings.

  • Evaluation of this phase established that 91% reported more confidence in plotting graphs and 86% were more confident at interpreting the findings.

The third phase comprised a seminar, followed by a lecture, with the aim of amalgamating the insights gained from the data analysis and its application to our global understanding of climate change.

  • Despite its complex nature, 96% of school students stated that they had a deeper understanding of this issue.

After the workshop, the school students followed up with a more formal written analysis of the research data, allowing them to achieve Outcome 1.1 & 1.2 of the ‘Global Issues’ module. Feedback from the teachers was that the school students appreciated being regarded as ‘adult students’. The students enjoyed the intellectual challenges and the chance to deepen their understanding of climate change issues.

The participating Greenhouse staff possesses a variety of experiences and expertise and as a team provided the geography teaching staff and school students with a number of opportunities.

The workshop provided education and information on climate change and exposure to current research findings that were shown to alter and refine our understanding of this area. The emphasis on shared knowledge and active research stressed the importance of multiple disciplines, including maths, engineering, geography, science and geology, to our understanding of climate change.

Participation of active, young researchers, supported by an inspiring lecture set at an appropriate educational level, provided a positive aspiration to these students. Specifically, it inspired the next generation to participate in the fundamentally crucial decisions required to further investigate and resolve climate change.

  • Receiving smiley emojis and comments such as, ‘I felt I really achieved something this morning’, was very encouraging. Of the 56 participating school students, 88% felt more events like this should be organised for them. This has inspired the GREENHOUSE staff to repeat the workshop with other interested schools and has generated further discussion into the impact of this outreach programme.

Thanks are due to: GREENHOUSE: Mat Williams, Sophie Flack; Boroughmuir High School: Steve McLeister, Allan Stevenson and the S5/6 Higher Geography students; Greenhouse Gases Programme: Kay Douglas, Brian Cameron MBE, Stephan Matthiesen; ECCI: Andy Kerr, Andy Cross.