How to combat climate anxiety in the classroom

Last year, the Young Innovators programme was rolled out across Switzerland, Netherlands, Spain, Italy and the UK. The aim of the programme is to equip teachers with tools and training to empower young students against climate challenges.

With ambitious growth goals in 2020, the programme has successfully expanded into the Baltic region thanks to a partnership with Aalto University in Espoo, Finland. Dr. Salvatore Ruggiero, from the Department of Management Studies, is the man carrying the torch.

His method of delivering the Young Innovators programme manifests in “D-Game,” a pilot project based on game-like activities that engages students and teachers in behavioral change through inspirational education. Schools in Finland, Spain and Italy will be selected as test sites.

Experiential learning

Education, eco-system building, co-creation and scientific research are the foundations of the project. It entails three distinct phases: a training module for teachers and students, co-creation of sustainable solutions with city stakeholders,’ and a ‘Lighthouse’ event.

“We would like to promote experiential learning. This is a type of learning where the individual has first an experience and then is encouraged to reflect on that experience to develop new skills or ways of thinking. It’s learning by doing, and in that, you also learn about yourself and other people’s world views,” explained Ruggiero, whose postdoctoral research deals with the role of bottom-up initiatives and business model innovation in the energy transition.

Although the intention is to equip young people with the knowledge and skills they need to understand and analyze climate change, Ruggiero says that students should also develop self-awareness, which is the ability to explore one’s own inner world by recognizing thoughts and emotions as they arise.

“Emotional intelligence is important not only for academic performance but also for effective climate leadership,”

“We want to develop and test a training module that aims to provide teachers with coaching skills and competences to support students, among other things, in processing their emotions about climate change. Basically, skills and competences useful in dealing with climate anxiety.”

Teachers will also be trained to implement several facilitation methods like the Climate-KIC toolkit as well as what Ruggiero refers to as “techniques for emotional intelligence”.

“Emotional intelligence is important not only for academic performance but also for effective climate leadership,” confirmed Ruggiero.

Enter the ‘Transition Arena’

The second phase of the project funnels the experiential learnings from school into society. Reminiscent of an EIT Climate-KIC Climathon, the “Transition Arena” is a multi-stakeholder and collaborative platform that enables community members to raise awareness around environmental issues and encourages students, along with other societal stakeholders, to partake in long-term planning for local transitions.

“The Transition Arena serves as a space where people can come together, have an exchange, create a shared vision, identify the steps, and hopefully, implement that vision.”

The project will culminate in a “Lighthouse” event, where students and teachers from Finland, Spain and Italy will gather in Bologna to exchange their experiences and share best practices.

Ruggiero intends also to develop tools to measure the “Greta Thunberg Effect,” or changes in students’ levels of engagement and motivation over the course of the D-Game project. If positive, the results could constitute the basis for future research and influence the decisions of policymakers.

“It all starts with experiencing one’s own true potential”

As a Climate-KIC partner, Aalto University aims to empower students — first as individuals, then as changemakers.

Behavioral change cannot be ignored if we are to accelerate a global energy transition, so it’s imperative that the enhancement of teenagers’ climate change knowledge, attitudes, and behavior become incorporated into environmental education.

“It all starts with experiencing one’s own true potential, which is that total personality that inspires, gives you determination, courage and all those qualities that great champions of change possess,” said Ruggiero.