January 11th, 2015

Supporting Energy Education Online: Climate Literacy And Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN)  

By Anne U. Gold, Tamara Shapiro Ledley, Susan Buhr Sullivan, Karin B. Kirk and Marian Grogan

gold figure oneAbstract: Recent changes in the climate system are mostly due to greenhouse gas emissions through increased energy use by society, which changes the distribution of energy in the Earth system. These changes highlight the importance of energy education. Energy consumption is at the source of and the solution to climate change. However, studies across the US and globally show that students’ understanding of energy and the connection between energy and climate is low. The Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness (CLEAN, http://cleanet.org) effort supports educators of middle school through undergraduate levels in their teaching about energy topics by providing an online, free collection of peer-reviewed, classroom ready resources that span the entire breadth of energy and climate education. The web portal also provides materials for teachers to learn more about how to teach about energy and climate. A vibrant community supports educators and other stakeholders in their efforts.


Keywords: Energy Education, Climate Education, CLEAN, educational resources, peer-review, community, educator professional development



Recent reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) make clear that climate change will significantly affect future generations and life on Earth (IPCC 2014). Humans’ energy use resulting in increased greenhouse gas emissions is the primary cause for the recent warming that has been measured on Earth (IPCC 2013). Efficient and responsible energy use therefore also represents a solution for society to slow down the warming process. Energy education is an important puzzle piece to achieve this goal. Thus energy educators have a pivotal role in building students’ understanding of the complex energy-climate system in order for these future citizens to be prepared for making sustainable decisions in the future. A recent survey of knowledge around climate change found that only 46% of US teenagers understand that emissions from cars and trucks substantially contribute to global warming, and only 62% of teenagers know that switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources would reduce global warming (Leiserowitz et al., 2013). This lack of basic understanding of the climate-energy system has also been shown in other studies across the US (Barrow & Morrisey, 1989; Gambro & Swityky, 1999; DeWaters & Powers, 2011; Lay et al., 2012; Bodzin, 2012) and around the world (Bojic, 2004; Keser, 2010; Acikgoz, 2011).

Recognizing the need for improving students’ understanding of the climate-energy system, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) emphasize that a solid knowledge about energy, climate change and sustainability is essential for students to be prepared for the decisions the next generation of citizens will face.

The Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN, http://cleanet.org) supports educators in their efforts to increasing energy and climate literacy among their students. Below we describe the different parts of the CLEAN effort and how users can use the resources and engage with the community.



The CLEAN effort has developed a rigorous review process for online-available educational resources and has applied that process in building a peer-reviewed collection of educational resources that address energy and climate science for grade levels 6-16. The CLEAN web portal also provides a series of web pages that help educators teach about energy topics. An energy quiz and access to recordings of educator professional development webinars on climate and energy topics is also available. Another avenue through which educators are supported is through the CLEAN Network, which facilitates a community of energy and climate literacy stakeholders.

CLEAN uses the US Global Change Research Program endorsed Energy Literacy framework (EERE Department of Energy, 2012) and the Climate Literacy framework (USGCRP, 2009) to organize materials on the website, and to guide the scope of the collections. The CLEAN effort is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Energy.


  1. CLEAN Peer-Reviewed Digital Collection of Educational Resources

The CLEAN Collection (http://cleanet.org/clean/educational_resources) currently includes over 620 educational resources comprised of learning activities, videos, visualizations, and short demonstrations and experiments.  These were selected from over 14,000 existing online educational resources that directly address either the Energy Literacy or the Climate Literacy frameworks.

All resources have been rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy, pedagogical effectiveness, and technical quality (Gold et al., 2012) by both educators and scientists. The CLEAN review process includes multiple steps (Figure 1). Resources that pass the two initial review rounds of individual review by CLEAN reviewers are then considered by a panel of four educators and scientists, who consider the prior reviews, discuss the merits, and decide on inclusion in the CLEAN Collection. An expert science review is conducted once a resource has passed the panel review. Reviewer comments are published as annotations on the public collection record of each resource. All resources that pass the review process are aligned with the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1994), the Energy and Climate Literacy Principles, and are tagged with energy and climate topic terms that facilitate an easy search. We also indicate whether a resource focuses on a specific region and if the resource prompts students to work with data.

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Figure 1. Schematic Outline of the CLEAN Peer-Review Process

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  1. CLEAN Educator Support

The CLEAN portal includes web pages designed to support teachers in understanding the key climate and energy concepts outlined in the Climate and Energy Literacy framework documents (Figure 2; http://cleanet.org/clean/literacy/energy_lit.html). These compact Teaching Energy and Climate Pedagogical Support Pages explain the significance of each broad concept, outline common misconceptions and challenges of teaching them, and suggest effective classroom approaches. Moreover, the portal provides webinar recordings of scientists and educators addressing these topics for undergraduate instructors (Kirk et al., 2014) and secondary teachers (Grogan et al., 2012).

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Figure 2. Screenshot of the CLEAN Portal Energy Literacy Pedagogical Support Pages for Educators



  1. CLEAN Network

The purpose of the CLEAN Network (http://cleanet.org/clean/community) is to support efforts to build energy and climate literacy through the sharing of information, materials, and expertise, and the building of partnerships (Ledley et al., 2014). The CLEAN Network includes over 440 educators, scientists, policy makers, science education professionals and other climate literacy stakeholders. Membership is free. The CLEAN Network engages in regular communication through weekly teleconferences with a mix of presentations and informal discussion (Tuesdays 1 pm ET; recordings are archived), an active email list , and member meetings at conferences and workshops. It is a helpful platform for educators to get connected to scientists and policy makers who work on energy and climate topics and the resulting societal issues. The CLEAN Network shares, leverages, and coordinates the diversity of climate and energy education efforts, regardless of their funding source, audience, methods, or topical and regional focus.  Some of the most vibrant discussions have been around questions concerning how to implement certain topics in the classroom or how to engage students. New resources are also frequently shared through the email list.


  1. CLEAN Engagement with Resource Developers

The CLEAN Collection shares educational resources developed by others. The CLEAN team values interactions with resource developers and supports their work. Based on the Energy and Climate Literacy frameworks, the CLEAN team provides a gap and thin spot analysis of the current CLEAN Collection (http://cleanet.org/clean/community/gap_analysis.html). These documents illustrate the availability of resources in the collection for each climate and energy topic and shows where additional resources may be needed. The CLEAN review criteria is also provided as guidance for resource developers.

The CLEAN Collection can also be featured on websites of interested organizations or groups through syndication (e.g. http://climate.gov/teaching), customized CLEAN Collection search links, or with the CLEAN widget (http://cleanet.org/clean/about/widget.html).



The CLEAN portal provides educators with the resources they need to teach about energy and the connection between climate and energy. Educators can search the CLEAN Collection for lesson plans or for videos or visualizations to augment their existing lessons. All resources have gone through a rigorous peer-review process that involved educators and scientists, resulting in a collection of resources that are classroom-ready and scientifically accurate.

Teachers can further their own understanding of key concepts in energy and climate education through our pedagogical support pages. The pages provide guidance on common preconceptions and why these concepts might be challenging to teach, along with tips on how to bring the concepts into the classroom.

The CLEAN Network provides individual support for questions around teaching energy and climate topics through a vibrant email list and weekly teleconferences.

Resource developers can engage with the CLEAN team directly and are supported in their work so that their educational materials can become part of the CLEAN Collection.

The CLEAN team is eager to engage with individuals and groups who are interested in working together to improve energy and climate literacy.



The authors thank Frank Niepold, Mark McCaffrey, Cathy Manduca, Sean Fox, Jeffrey Lockwood, Candace Dunlap, Monica Bruckner, Cynthia Howell, Beth Simmons, Jennifer Helms, Susan Lynds, and Scott Carley for their contributions to the development of CLEAN. The authors also thank Susan Lynds for their help in editing the paper. The CLEAN Project is funded by grants from NOAA (NA12OAR4310143, NA12OAR4310142), the NSF (DUE-0938051, DUE- 0938020, DUE-0937941), and the U.S. Department of Energy. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF, NOAA, and the Department of Energy.



AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) (1994): Benchmarks for Science Literacy. Oxford University Press, 448 p.

Acikgoz, C. (2011): Renewable energy education in Turkey. Renewable Energy, 36, pp. 608-611.

Barrow, L.H., Morrisey, J.T. (1989): Energy Literacy of Ninth-Grade Students: A Comparison Between Main and New Brunswick. The Journal of Environmental Education, 20 (2), pp. 22-25.

Bodzin, A. (2012): Investigating urban eighth-grade students’ knowledge of energy resources. International Journal of Science Education, 34(8), pp.1255-1275.

Bojic, M. (2004): Education and training in renewable energy sources in Serbia and Montenegro. Renewable Energy, 29, pp. 1631–1642.

DeWaters, J. E., & Powers, S. E. (2011): Energy literacy of secondary students in New York State (USA): A measure of knowledge, affect, and behavior. Energy Policy, 39(3), pp. 1699-1710.

EERE Department of Energy (2012): Energy Literacy: Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts for Energy Education, http://www1.eere.energy.gov/education/energy_literacy.html.

Gambro, J.S., & Switzky, H.N. (1999): Variables associated with American high school students’ knowledge of environmental issues related to energy and pollution. Journal of Environmental Education, 30 (2), pp. 15–22.

Gold, A. U., T. S. Ledley, S. M. Buhr, S. Fox, M. McCaffrey, F. Niepold, C. Manduca, and S. Lynds (2012): Peer-Review of Digital Educational Resources: A Rigorous Review Process Developed by the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN), Journal of Geoscience Education, 60(4), pp. 295-308

Grogan, M., Ledley, T. S., & Buhr, S. M. (2012). Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN)-Interactive Webinars for Teacher Professional Development. In AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts, 1, p. 0737.

IPCC (Intergovernmental of Climate Change) (2013): Climate Change 2013: The Physical Basis Fifth Assessment report of Working Group I. Cambridge University Press.

IPCC (Intergovernmental of Climate Change) (2014): Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Fifth Assessment report of Working Group II. Cambridge University Press.

Keser, O. (2010): Energy, Environment, and Education Relationship, in Developing countries’ Policies: A Case Study for Turkey. Energy Sources, 25 (2), pp. 123-133.

Kirk, K., Gold, A.U., Ledley, T.S., Sullivan, S.B., Manduca, C.A., Mogk, D.W., Wiese, K. (2014): Undergraduate Climate Education: Motivations, Strategies, Successes, and Support. Journal of Geoscience Education, 62 (4), pp. 538-549.

Lay, Y. F., Khoo, C. H., Munting, E., & Chong, C. (2012): Secondary School Students’ Energy Literacy: Effect of Gender and School Location. OIDA International Journal of Sustainable Development, 3(7), pp. 75-86.

Ledley, T.S., Gold, A.U., Niepold, F., McCaffrey, M. (2014): Moving Toward Collective Impact in Climate Change Literacy: The Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN), Journal of Geoscience Education, 62 (3), pp. 307-318.

Leiserowitz, A., Smith, N. and Marlon, J.R. (2011): American Teens’ Knowledge of Climate Change. Yale University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. http://environment.yale.edu/uploads/american-teens-knowledge-of-climate-change.pdf

USGCRP (Ed.) (2009): Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science, A Guide for Individuals and Communities, Department of Commerce; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (lead agency), Washington DC, 17 p.

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