A Figured Worlds Perspective on Middle School Learners' Climate Literacy Development

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The purpose of this study was to investigate the nature of the relationship between middle school science learners’ conditions and their developing understandings of climate change. I applied the anthropological theoretical perspective of figured worlds (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998) to examine learners’ views of themselves and their capacities to act in relation to climate change. My overarching research question was: How are middle school science learners’ figured worlds of climate change related to the conditions in which they are embedded? I used a descriptive single-case study design to examine the climate change ideas of eight purposefully selected 6th grade science learners. Data sources included: classroom observations, curriculum documents, interviews, focus groups, and written assessments and artifacts, including learners’ self- generated drawings. I identified six analytic lenses with which to explore the data. Insights from the application of these analytic lenses provided information about the elements of participants’ climate change stories, which I reported through the use of a storytelling heuristic. I then synthesized elements of participants’ collective climate change story, which provided an “entrance” (Kitchell, Hannan, & Kempton, 2000, p. 96) into their figured world of climate change.

Aspects of learners’ conditions—such as their worlds of school, technology and media use, and family—appeared to shape their figured world of climate change. Within their figured world of climate change, learners saw themselves—individually and as members of groups—as inhabiting a variety of climate change identities, some of which were in conflict with each other. I posited that learners’ enactment of these identities – or the ways in which they expressed their climate change agency – had the potential to reshape or reinforce their conditions. Thus, learners’ figured worlds of climate change might be considered “spaces of authoring” (Holland et al., 1998, p. 45) with potential for inciting social and environmental change. The nature of such change would hinge on the extent to which these nascent climate change identities become salient for these early adolescent learners through their continued climate change learning experiences. Implications for policy, curriculum and instruction, and science education research related to climate change education are presented.