Our Research: Are Polar Bears An Effective Emotional Hook for Increasing Student Learning about Climate Science?

Climate science and global climate change are complex topics that require system-level thinking and the application of general science concepts. Identifying effective instructional approaches for student learning of climate science is a frontier research area with important broader impacts. The specific goal of our project is to identify the influence of a polar emotional hook on a student's interest in and capacity to learn about the globally connected climate system and climate change.


RClimate Science Literacy is achieved by addressing three domains: affect, cognition, behavior.esearch Question: What is the effect of incorporating polar bears as an emotional hook in educational videos and undergraduate curriculum on student affect, cognition and behaviors towards climate change and students’ interest in and capacity to learn about the globally connected climate system?


Our project will study the effect of using polar bears to engage students on scientific concepts related to climate change and the development of their content knowledge. In order to answer the research question we are developing educational materials (videos, podcasts, curriculum) in two versions, one includes polar bears as an emotional “hook”, the other set will not include polar bears – the materials are otherwise identical.

We hypothesize that students learn more and retain information better when instruction uses a polar bear hook because students’ affective domain is more strongly engaged.


E4 Skin Sensor to monitor physiological signs in real-time


  • Pre-post written assessment with items from Climate Concept Inventory, Leiserowitz’s Six Americas, Environmental Beliefs, Behavior Questions, newly developed Polar Bear Questions

  • Concept sketching of climate systems questions

  • Measurements of skin conductance using Empathica E4 galvanic skin sensors during instruction/video watching

  • Multiple choice questions with open-ended engagement question(s) – after instruction

  • Semi-structured debrief about emotional engagement after instruction.

  • Demographic data

NSF logo



This research is funded by the National Science Foundation under award number AGS 1554659.