University of Waterloo: Rethinking how youth learn about climate change

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This summer’s fires, floods and heat waves have reinforced what we already know — the effects of climate change are happening now and the need for action is urgent. But what steps should be taken to mitigate and adapt are often not well understood. This is where the interactive game Illuminate can fill this knowledge gap.

Developed by the University of Waterloo’s Waterloo Climate Institute in partnership with the Games Institute and a multi-disciplinary team of students, staff and faculty from across campus, the game is aimed at helping students in grades 4 to 12 understand the science, the risks and, most importantly, the solutions to climate change.

The game presents players with interactive scenarios that require them to make thoughtful choices about dealing with climate change challenges across rural (agriculture), urban (cities, heat), and coastal areas (flooding, effects from storm surges). Players are tasked with investing in high-impact strategies within a given budget, and their choices determine one of four possible endings. In this way, the game helps teach youth about climate change solutions as well as the costs and benefits of certain approaches as they act as decision-makers.

“We aimed for this game to be at that interface between science and education,” said Simon Glauser, managing director of the Waterloo Climate Institute. “We wanted to translate science into a useful format for younger audiences and teach them that there is no perfect solution to the climate crisis, but that taking action now can have a positive impact on what our future looks like.”

Illuminate is public so that any parent, guardian or teacher can access it. It is also available on the Climate Educator’s Portal, an educational platform designed to empower elementary and high school teachers across Canada to educate their students about climate change. By targeting this earlier educational cohort before they get to university, Illuminate aims to help spread general awareness about the complexities of climate change and its solutions. In doing so, it meets students where they are and inspires conversation and constructive action in and outside of the classroom.

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