In this week’s Q&A, The Texas Tribune interviews Diego Román, assistant professor of teaching and learning at Southern Methodist University.
Texas Tribune reporter Cassandra Pollock interviewed SMU education expert Diego Román in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development for a Q&A about how middle school science textbooks frame climate change as an opinion rather than scientific fact.
Román is co-author of a 2015 study of California 6th grade science textbooks and how they present global warming.
Studies estimate that only 3 percent of scientists who are experts in climate analysis disagree about the role of humans in the causes of climate change. And the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the evidence of 600 climate researchers in 32 countries reporting changes to Earth’s atmosphere, ice and seas — in 2013 stated “human influence on the climate system is clear.”
Yet only 54 percent of American teens believe climate change is happening, 43 percent don’t believe it’s caused by humans, and 57 percent aren’t concerned about it.
The new study measured how four sixth-grade science textbooks adopted for use in California frame the subject of global warming. Sixth grade is the first time California state standards indicate students will encounter climate change in their formal science curriculum.
“We found that climate change is presented as a controversial debate stemming from differing opinions,” said Román, an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning. “Climate skeptics and climate deniers are given equal time and treated with equal weight as scientists and scientific facts — even though scientists who refute global warming total a miniscule number.”
The findings were reported in October 2015 at the 11th Conference of the European Science Education Research Association (ESERA), held in Helsinki, Finland.
The findings were also published in the Environmental Education Research journal in the article, “Textbooks of doubt: Using systemic functional analysis to explore the framing of climate change in middle-school science textbooks.”
The Texas Tribune article, “The Q&A: Diego Román,” published Aug. 17, 2017.
By Cassandra Pollock
With each issue, Tasbo+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to health care. Here is this week’s subject:
Diego Román is an assistant professor in teaching and learning at Southern Methodist University. He has recently researched how climate change is framed for middle school students in science textbooks.
Tasbo+Edu: Can you briefly explain your research findings?
Dr. Diego Román: The big picture of my research is that I look at the linguistic and social factors that impact language use in the science-education context and language development for English learners who are attending school in the U.S.
I am an applied linguist, and one of my research topics was the framing of climate change in middle school textbooks. In terms of the science textbooks and what we found in that specific study, the ones we investigated don’t reflect the way scientists discuss climate change in reports. While science reports resort to the certainty that climate change is happening, the textbooks that we looked at were very uncertain about defining that issue. We looked into seeing why that would be the case, particularly at how science is seen as very specific, objective and certain, but when we discuss climate change, we use a lot of qualifiers — “would,” “could” and “might.”
We’re arguing that this places the weight on the reader to decipher what that means. “Not all” could mean 90 percent, 55 percent or 10 percent, depending on who you’re talking to. So while textbooks are required to address certain topics — such as climate change — they’re not using specific language to help students and teachers have a better understanding and discussion around the issue.
I also look at how we use language — and I do that by using a framework called systemic functional linguistics. It argues that language is caused by the context of use, so the way we talk about science and the way we frame science topics when discussing them may be different than social studies. To explain a different type of knowledge, we connect ideas differently. For example, we emphasize the idea versus the people in science, but in social studies, we look at the people. To do that, we use language. So I look at how language is used in those purposes to convey knowledge and be effective. I try to understand the perspectives of the authors or the people. That’s a big picture description of my research.
Tasbo+Edu: What are the biggest challenges you see moving forward to try to modify the textbook system?
Román: It seems to be how research can impact, in this case, textbook development, and how to find things that applied linguists are doing when it relates to how language is used and if there’s a way to convey scientific knowledge — from a contextual perspective, but also from a linguistics perspective.