We are now living in The Age of Misinformation. Fake news and “alternative facts” resonate deep into the echo chambers of many online lives. With the rise of increasingly sophisticated AI video creation platforms, creating and sharing fake videos online is easy. To avoid getting lost down rabbit holes of conspiracy or invention, it is essential to be armed with the necessary tools that will enable us to be able to evaluate and verify sources of information.

At the International School of Lausanne, acquiring these tools is a key part of our International Baccalaureate curriculum. To enhance the learning of the new Year 7 humanities unit, ‘Our Changing Climate’, we were delighted to welcome a guest speaker, Kshipra Narain, a Media & Communications expert in the field of combatting misinformation, to educate the students on how they can identify fake news or “facts”, and how they can stop the spread of these.

Read on to learn more about the teaching of climate change in the ISL PYP, MYP and DP programme, or scroll down to the end of the article to read the Year 7s’ reflections on their learning and to see the image gallery from Kshipra Narain’s visit.

In 2014’s non-fiction “must-read”, Don’t Even Think About It, George Marshall’s in-depth exploration on the psychological and social factors that cause climate change denial and inaction, he identifies that one of the problematic phenomenona around the issue is that we simply don’t talk about it. And we don’t talk about the fact that we don’t talk about it – “there is a silence about the silence: a meta-silence.”

Marshall shares an anecdote – his friend Mayar is at a dinner party of liberal professionals; as people discuss their holiday trip plans, Mayer brings up the issue of climate change in terms of how their airline flights will impact future generations. The ensuing silence is broken by a guest praising the host on “the lovely spinach tart.” The next ten minutes is spent discussing the spinach tart.

In the nearly ten years that have elapsed since the book’s publication, the silence is still prevalent: a 2022 New York Times article, Here’s a secret about your neighbours, explores the same issue.

If you don’t have time to pick up a copy of Marshall’s book, the Center for Climate Protection offers a snappy synopsis, making clear in bite-sized chapter overviews why our brains are singularly ill-equipped to deal with the wicked problem that climate change poses.

And, as if dealing with our “cognitive blind spots” wasn’t tough enough, in the decade since the book’s publication, a deeply disturbing and dangerous new problem has permeated society: the “sharing and believing” of misinformation on the internet.

So how do we ensure that we both talk about the issue of climate change, and arm ourselves with the weapons necessary to combat the spread of fake news and “alternative facts”?

At the International School of Lausanne, students are taught “how to learn” as part of the International Baccalaureate’s Attitudes to Learning (ATL) Research skills. One of the subjects in which these skills are consolidated in nearly, if not all, units, is in the humanities, in which undertaking research investigations is a core part of learning. Being able to verify the veracity, reliability and reputability of sources is a vital part of the students’ ATL information literacy (“Collect and critically analyse data and intercultural and/or diverse knowledge to create solutions”).

This year, we have been excited to launch a new unit as part of the Year 7 MYP individuals and societies curriculum: Our Changing Climate.

The concept of sustainability is already a central theme to the International School of Lausanne’s humanities curriculum. Each year in the secondary school, students study a unit that falls under the overarching idea of ‘Human and natural environments, and resource management’, developing the students’ understanding of managing climate change and other environmental problems on different scales. The units are as follows:

  • Year 8 – Environmental systems (biomes)
  • Year 9 – Securing our future needs: resources and sustainability
  • Year 10 – hazard management (includes climatic hazards associated with climate change)
  • year 11 – Population and resource use in the 21st century.

The students are first introduced to the concept of sustainability in the ISL primary school, consolidating their understanding through the Year 6 PYP Exhibition (PYPx), which, much like the Middle Year Programme’s Personal Project and the Diploma Programme’s Extended Essay, is the culminating project in the PYP.

The United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) are used as the organising principle for this large-scale, student-led project, with the ISL primary students designing and conducting their own research efforts (many, though not all, focusing on the issue of climate change), taking action in their chosen area, and delivering presentations at the ISL PYPx evening. (This year, the PYPx23 Celebration will be held on the evening of Tuesday 16 May.)

In the new Year 7 unit on Our Changing Climate, the students learn about the natural and human causes of C02 in our planet’s atmosphere, then build on this knowledge to undertake an individual research investigation journal on the consequences of human-caused climate change, exploring the overarching unit statement of inquiry that “Natural and human processes result in atmospheric change that impact individuals and societies in different places.”

In the final part of the unit, the students develop the following IB ATL Intercultural Competencies skills in media literacy and critical thinking:

  • Demonstrate awareness of media interpretations of events and understand their impact on prejudice
  • Seek and consider a range of perspectives from multiple and varied sources
  • Recognise unstated assumptions and bias

They do this by evaluating the reliability of a range of sources from different contexts – both mainstream news media, such as The New York Times, and from social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter.

We were delighted, therefore, when Kshipra Narain, the Executive Editor for NewsMobile, who has worked extensively on fact-checking with organisations including Facebook and Google, and who was conferred the Professional Changemaker of the Year by Womennovator in 2020, visited the International School of Lausanne to deliver an interactive presentation to the Year 7s on Climate Change & Misinformation.

An expert in the field of Media & Communications, Narain was able to bring real-life examples from her years of experience fighting the perpetuation of fake news and false information on the internet, bringing a global context to the students’ learning.

While the Year 7s were kept busy scribbling notes, the presentation was interspersed throughout with interactive opportunities for them to both ask and answer questions about the images, videos, and information that they were seeing on the slides.

The students were engaged throughout, and eager to show off the knowledge that they had acquired during the unit, using apposite terminology to talk about the impacts of climate change and the importance of verifying source credibility.

“I think learning about the causes and consequences of climate change is important because this makes you know the truth about this topic. Lots of fake news travels on social media, and this makes you informed and not believe other things that are not true. You can also inform your peers that are interested or were misinformed,” Apolline (Year 7) reflected afterwards.

Walking into their next humanities lesson a couple of days later, the students were still talking about the misinformation presentation. In their final assessment, in which they had to draw on their critical thinking skills to evaluate sources, the students wrote with confidence about bias and credibility, demonstrating strong awareness of the need to ascertain the reputability of a source and to fact-check.

The students of the International School of Lausanne are not staying silent on the issue of climate change. The more that they learn, the more animated their conversations on the subject become. And now, they are empowered with the skills that they need to ensure that the information that they are acquiring and sharing about climate change is accurate and stems from sources who are experts in the field.

ISL would like to thank Kshipra Narain for taking the time to create the Climate Change & Misinformation presentation for the ISL Year 7s, and for delivering this in such an engaging and interactive manner.

 Keep scrolling to discover what the Year 7s themselves had to say about the unit on Our Changing Climate…

On why it is important to learn about the causes and consequences of climate change…

I think it is important because if we know what causes climate change, we can prevent some elements of it from happening by stopping some of those bad habits. And even if we can’t do anything to fix some of the problems, we can at least learn about them so that we can inform other people who are possibly in a position where they have enough power to do so. (Piper, Year 7)

It is better to be aware because we can actually try and do something about it. The more information we know about climate change and its consequences, the more we can do something about it. We can also spread awareness to others by showing our knowledge of climate change. (Selin, Year 7)

I think that it is important to learn about the causes and consequences, because if we know how we are causing climate change, then we can know how to stop it. (Matilde, Year 7)

We need to understand the causes of climate change so that we can make a change and help our mother earth to recover. We should be thankful and privileged to even have a place to stay and have food and water to live, so we should give earth to breathe fresh air and a good recovery. We should make a change, now we know so much about the problems going on in the world, and we need to solve it. (Ayska, Year 7)

I think it is important to acknowledge the problems of climate change because then we can find the solution to the problem. I think in order to solve an issue, you must be aware of the problem first. Secondly, I think it can be a good example to future generations of “what not to do”. (Sophia, Year 7)

I think learning about the causes and consequences of climate change is important because this makes you know the truth about this topic. Lots of fake news travels on social media, and this makes you informed and not believe other things that are not true. You can also inform your peers that are interested or were misinformed. (Apolline, Year 7)

On why it is valuable to learn about misinformation and fake news on the internet and social media, particularly in relation to climate change…

It is important to learn about misinformation and fake news on the internet and social media because if we start believing in everything, people will take advantage of that and keep giving us false information that soon enough people will start believing everything is true. It’s important not to be naïve, but it’s harder online because it’s so easy to make something fake seem so real. (Aminata, Year 7)

I think that it’s important because misinformation can turn out to also be a way to trick someone or make them say something that they don’t think that’s true. In the climate change context, this can amplify the level of how someone tricked another person, especially if this misinformation comes from a politician. (Lautaro, Year 7)

I think it is very valuable because knowing about misinformation makes you “safe” from the issues misinformation causes.  This connects to climate change because some influencers can post something untrue about climate change – that is why it is important for us to be aware of it. (Sophia, Year 7)

I think this is important, because lots of people have different positions and opinions about climate change. Some people could be biased and want other people to follow their example and have the same opinion as them. (Apolline, Year 7)

On the learning highlights of the unit…

While I was doing my investigation, I learnt extremely interesting things I haven’t heard of before, which boosted not only my learning, but also my research.  One example of this is how a natural cause can actually connect with a human cause. This really caught my eye and made me realise that there are so many things I haven’t learnt about climate change yet. (Selin, Year 7) I think that some learning highlights in this unit is pretty much whenever we talked about things and strayed off topic but still within the area: it makes us more aware of how big the topic is and more understanding, I like it. Another highlight is when we had the visit of Kshipra Narain because she gave us good tips and a good level of understanding on misinformation, which really helped. (Heloise, Year 7)

My favourite experience was the Kshipra Narain talk. I liked it because it was really helpful and taught me so much. (Matilde, Year 7)

For me, the highlight of this unit is the research part. It was really fun to do, and I learned a lot from it. The visit from Kshripa Narain was also really fun and informative. (Omer, Year 7)

I really liked how committed everyone in the class was to the topic and research journal, because it pushed me to be really committed to it too. (Matilde, Year 7)

I think that the highlights of this unit would be firstly, the climate change research journal assessment, because I got to research a lot about my favourite topics. Secondly, the visit from Kshipra Narain gave me a lot of knowledge about misinformation and how we can spot it. I think that I learnt a lot from this unit. My knowledge about climate change has gained a lot since the unit has started. It was also really fun and engaging. Overall it was an AMAZING unit. (Ayska, Year 7)