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New game to help kids learn about climate change

Missions With Monty is a quest game developed at North Carolina State University that uses Monty the Monitor Lizard to guide students through complex climate problems. The game will be adapted to Australian conditions thanks to a University Global Partnerships Network (UGPN) grant that allows a partnership with institutions around the world to develop solutions to a universal issue.

The project leader, Associate Professor Sarah Howard, said the game was aimed at primary school students in Years 5 and 6. Students may be given a challenge such as why a population of frogs has migrated away from a pond, she said.

They may have to learn about the frog, its environment, what’s happened to the pond’s catchment and what’s happened to the weather. With the help of Monty, they encounter scientists, points of data and other animals to investigate the issue.

The funding would adapt the game to Australian conditions, such as drought and fire, and with Australian animals. With the help of researchers from the SMART Infrastructure Facility, new ways of capturing data from the game would be developed, giving teachers valuable insights into the ways that their students learned.

Finally, new ways would be developed to allow international collaboration among students, building on the existing framework for collaboration within the classroom. The interdisciplinary nature of the project – educational psychology, educational technology, computer science, science education, and design – provides the potential for increased faculty collaboration across institutions.

This process has the potential to provide a model for data collection and international teacher and student multi-national collaboration that could then be extended to any educational context. The UGPN aims to develop sustainable world-class research, education and knowledge transfer through an active international network of selected Universities collaborating in research, learning and teaching to benefit global society.

The program will develop a range of jointly enabled innovative solutions to world problems based on shared research expertise and a mobility strategy for increasing the number of faculty, staff and students with international experience. The UGPN annual conference will be held in Wollongong next year.

The need for education around climate change in Australia is pertinent. The global economic and environmental impact of wildfires is likely to worsen as a result of human-induced climate change and land-use patterns, according to a team of international fire researchers.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Reviews: Earth & Environment, researchers describe global and regional trends in fire activity and project what is expected to come down the pipeline in the future. The interaction between climate, vegetation and fire occurrence has led to distinct fire regimes, which are characterised by their frequency, seasonality, geographic scale and pattern, and environmental effects.

Past climate change is known to have influenced the extent, frequency and intensity of landscape fires by affecting vegetation patterns, fuel abundance and drought. Currently, human-induced climate change is altering rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures, resulting in more frequent extreme fire events.

Extremely intense fires can trigger the development of pyrocumulonimbus storms, which are powerful convective thunderstorms that can reach the stratosphere and create localised weather, including rain, hail, lightning and pyro-tornadoes.

In Australia, the difficulties in separating the influences of climate change from the effects of stopping traditional Aboriginal fire management practices following European colonisation in the early 19th century.

However, the effects of climate change are evident in the increasing number of extreme fire events – including the Black Summer fires of 2019-20 during which 35 pyrocumulonimbus storms were recorded, doubling the known records of these extreme events. This spike in fire intensity and severity has also been recorded at various other locations around the world, including Chile, Canada, Portugal and California.

Development of these fire management interventions requires transdisciplinary research that combines insights from natural and social sciences, engineering and technology, and humanities. Such research is also prerequisite for improving global and regional fire models of future fire activity.

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