ICTMA19 – Hong Kong

Carbon footprints calculators and climate change                     

Lisa Steffensen and Suela Kacerja (30 min presentation)

Climate change is one of society’s biggest challenges, and both individuals and nations need to deal with how to reduce human contribution to human-induced climate change. CO2-emission plays an important role in climate change. However, a person’s CO2-emission is difficult for most people to visualize or to quantify. Edstrand (2015) argues that carbon calculators, by quantifying the CO2-emission of an individual, could be a way of making the invisible visible. A carbon calculator is a mathematical model consisting of different parameters that need to be filled in by the user, such as the number of flights, daily transportation methods, or the household energy consumption. The calculator then provides a numeric answer to the amount of CO2 a person emits. In addition to calculate the CO2-emission, this mathematical model categorizes people and suggests measures based on that numeric answer. Niss (2015) calls for more attention in mathematics education and research towards such modelling examples. In society, these models can be considered as a way of regulating an individual’s consumption and way of life, and Salo, Mattinen-Yuryev, & Nissinen (2019) highlight that calculators are a “soft policy measure in order to raise public awareness of the carbon footprint of ordinary living” (p. 1). In this paper, we focus on students’ reflections when using a carbon footprint calculator as part of the work with climate change in their mathematics classes.

The empirical data was collected during a one-year research partnership with teachers and students in lower secondary school in Norway. In this paper, we focus on one particular lesson where the students worked in groups and prepared posters for an energy-exhibition in their local community. One group chose to focus on how climate change could affect their local community and exploring a carbon footprint calculator. The group was video- and audiotaped, and their discussions were transcribed and thematically coded.

The preliminary findings point to two kinds of student reflections. The first kind concerns discussions about the limitations of the calculator. For instance, they made comments on how the calculators presumed a certain consumption based on income only, or that the CO2-emission did not take into account food miles. The second kinds of reflections involve possible individual actions to reduce CO2-emission. Based on our preliminary results, we argue that carbon footprint calculator can facilitate students’ critical reflections about mathematical models that both describe the real world, as well as prescribe certain actions towards a more environmentally friendly behaviour. Furthermore, the carbon footprint calculator can facilitate an awareness of which kinds of individual actions that are most effective towards reducing CO2-emission. In our paper, we argue for the relevance of working with carbon footprint calculators in mathematics education.

Edstrand, E. (2015). Making the invisible visible: How students make use of carbon footprint calculator in environmental education. Learning, Media and Technology, 41(2), 1-21.

Niss, M. (2015). Prescriptive Modelling – Challenges and Opportunities. In G. A. Stillman, W. Blum, & M. S. Biembengut (Eds.), Mathematical Modelling in Education Research and Practice. Cultural, Social and Cognitive Influences (pp. 67-80). Cham: Springer International.

Salo, M., Mattinen-Yuryev, M. K., & Nissinen, A. (2019). Opportunities and limitations of carbon footprint calculators to steer sustainable household consumption – Analysis of Nordic calculator features. Journal of Cleaner Production, 207, 658-666.

Road tolls and climate change in the mathematics classroom

Lisa Steffensen (poster presentation)

Chttp://10.13140/RG.2.2.18291.07206limate change is a global, urgent and complex issue, and impact society in several ways. In addition to the physical changes to Earth, it can affect structural changes in society, for instance, the fossil-based transport industry. In Norway, the Government has set as a goal that all new passenger cars should be zero emission vehicles in 2025 and has introduced several incentives for buying Electric Vehicles (EVs). Road tolls in Norway are comprehensive and are planned to constitute about 35% of total road investments in 2014-2023. One of the incentives is that EVs do not pay road tolls, which has contributed to an exceptionally high amount of new car sale of EVs. For instance, in Oslo and Bergen, the share in 2017 was 40% and 50% respectively. Internationally, these numbers stand out, where electric vehicles accounted for about 1% of new cars sales in 2017. The incentives have caused much public debate, and it is questioned whether if such incentives are appropriate as a means toward a more environmental future. This paper examines Norwegian student’s discussions on road tolls in an upcoming bridge project in their local community. The road tolls for the project had not yet been set, and the students were invited to suggest a model of payment distribution among vehicles. The focus of this paper is on how students critically reflect when designing a prescriptive model on road tolls.

Niss (2015) highlighted prescriptive modelling as important in mathematics education practice and research. The rates in road tolls involve economic incentives for certain behavior. For instance, rush hour rates are supposed to discourage car driving on certain hours, while free pass to EVs is supposed to encourage people to buy zero-emission vehicles. In that sense, the rating system can be looked upon as a prescriptive mathematical model, where the model affects people in ways such as which type of car they buy, how they commute to work, as well as having an impact on potentially more environmentally friendly transportation.

The empirical data was collected in four 10th grade classes, over one year, and involved 42 lessons. The classroom discussion addressed in this paper took place towards the end of the year after the students had participated in group discussions on the same topics. The data consist of video- and audio-recordings, students and teachers written materials, and field notes. The data was transcribed, thematically coded and categorized.

Preliminary findings suggest that when students discussed different models of the road tolls, their arguments involved critical reflections on mainly four categories; personal economy, traffic-related concerns, green technology, ethical aspects. For instance, the economic impact road toll can have on a family that perhaps already struggle economic wise, concerns on traffic flow, traffic security, etc., the potential impact that EVs can have on CO2-emissions and climate change, and the ethical aspects of what continued CO2-emission would have for future generations. Lately, student’s worldwide school strike on inaction on climate change has displayed that student engages actively in society on environmental issues. The discussions amongst the students, how they critically reflected on real-life aspects and argued with a complexity of reasons on real-life problems, showed that student is capable of dealing with such problems. If mathematics education facilitates so that students can meet complex problems, in addition to more ordinary textbook-task, this could better prepare them for acting as critical citizens in society and take a justified stand in complex real-life problems.

Niss, M. (2015). Prescriptive Modelling – Challenges and Opportunities. In G. A. Stillman, W. Blum, & M. S. Biembengut (Eds.), Mathematical Modelling in Education Research and Practice. Cultural, Social and Cognitive Influences (pp. 67-80). Cham: Springer International.