USING ONLINE DATA TO TEACH SCIENCE SKILLS TO MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS

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1 USING ONLINE DATA TO TEACH SCIENCE SKILLS TO MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS By Medea Hoeschen Steinman B.D.I.C. University of Massachusetts, 1997 A THESIS Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Teaching The Graduate School The University of Maine May, 2007 Advisory Committee: Molly Schauffler, Assistant Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, Advisor Susan McKay, Professor, Department of Physics and, Director, Center for Science and Mathematics Education Research James McKenna, Coordinator, Schoodic Education and Research Center

2 LIBRARY RIGHTS STATEMENT In presenting this thesis in partial fulfillment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of Maine, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for inspection. I further agree that permission for fair use copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the Librarian. It is understood that any copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Signature: Date:

3 USING ONLINE DATA TO TEACH SCIENCE SKILLS TO MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS By Medea Hoeschen Steinman Thesis Advisor: Dr. Molly Schauffler An Abstract of the Thesis Presented in partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Teaching May, 2007 There is increasing concern about science education and the declining performance in science subjects by secondary school students in the United States. One response to this has been the widespread promotion of inquiry-based teaching methodologies. These methods take many different forms and effective learning results have been found in certain areas of education research, like Physics Education Research and in the problem-based learning programs used in many medical schools. The efficacy of these programs has not been as well studied in the areas of environmental, earth, and ecological sciences, and the empirical studies that have been done in those disciplines show mixed learning results for students. This study investigates the use of a particular guided inquiry approach with 92 seventh-grade students in five life science classes at a middle school in Bangor, Maine. A three-week curriculum was developed and used by the researcher to guide students through a sequence of increasingly autonomous classroom activities involving the use of online scientific data. The activities required the students to access, download, manipulate, and graph data with a specific real-world environmental question in mind. Pre/post testing instruments and an attitude survey were used to measure the effects of the treatment curriculum on student learning and on students views toward science. The

4 data were evaluated using a mixed methods approach that employed parametric and nonparametric tests and evaluations of observed frequencies of students ordinal scores. Students were able to improve their creation and use of graphs but not necessarily their interpretation of them or their ability to use data to support a conclusion. The gains they made were not necessarily tied to their participation in the treatment curriculum. The study shows that the traditional classroom environment is not conducive to shortterm inquiry-oriented teaching methods and in this context such a treatment is not likely to produce significant learning results for seventh grade students. Students also require more time and practice developing mental habits more suited to inquiry-based learning methods. Students views about science were found not to agree with those of trained scientists and the students appeared to be overly trusting of scientific studies in general and information they find on the Internet. Despite the wide promotion of inquiry-based learning in state and national learning standards, many teachers are still reluctant to use inquiry-based teaching with their students. The study discusses the variety of online data that are available and many reasons why the use of such data offers valuable educational potential to teachers and students. Recommendations are offered for teachers interested in using a similar curriculum with their students.

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6 DEDICATION This thesis is dedicated to my mother, Caroline Hoeschen, who has believed in me every step of the way and In memory of my father, Richard Steinman, and my beloved canine companion, Nica loved ones lost along the way. ii

7 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS There are many people for me to thank, some in Maine, some elsewhere. First and foremost, thank you to my committee members, Dr. Molly Schauffler, Dr. Susan McKay, and Dr. James McKenna. In particular, thank you to Dr. Schauffler for her kind and steady guidance, advice, and enthusiasm, and to Dr. McKay for her patience and unflagging support. Thank you to my mentor teacher and all of her 2005 to 2006 students who participated in this study at the middle school in Bangor, Maine they taught me so much and this would not have been possible without them. Thank you to Phil Pratt for giving his time so generously and for his patient discussions and advice about the statistics used in this study. My dear friend, Arrian Myrick-Stockdell, deserves thanks for enduring many practice presentations over the years. Thanks go to many graduate students and faculty at the University of New Mexico where this all began. In particular, I wish to thank Dr. James H. Brown who has been a source of profound intellectual inspiration that has spurred me forward in my learning. iii

8 TABLE OF CONTENTS DEDICATION...ii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...iii LIST OF TABLES...vii LIST OF FIGURES...ix IINTRODUCTION...1 Why is IBL challenging and why aren t more teachers using it?...3 Why use online data in the science classroom?...4 Purpose of this study...7 LITERATURE REVIEW...10 Capabilities of middle school students...10 Cognitive development...11 Knowledge transfer...12 Inquiry-based learning in ecological and environmental sciences...14 What is inquiry-based learning?...15 Literature about IBL...16 Interpretation of results from IBL literature review...26 Summary from IBL literature review...28 What attitudes, impressions, and views of science do seventh graders have?...29 METHODS...34 Overview...34 Instruments...35 Pre- and post-tests...35 iv

9 Attitude survey...36 Pre-teaching and group assignment...37 Administration of testing instruments...38 Curricula...39 Treatment group curriculum...39 Comparison group curriculum...40 DATA ANALYSIS...43 Scoring the pre- and post-test data...43 Scoring the Attitude Survey data...44 Data analysis strategy...45 Interpretive questions and statistical tests...46 RESULTS...49 DISCUSSION...71 Visualizing the classroom environment...71 Demographics...71 Academic ability...72 Maturity, motivation, and other factors...73 Class schedule and classroom atmosphere...74 Non-equivalence of Treatment and Comparison groups...77 Reliability of the test questions...77 Curriculum effects: Treatment vs. Comparison...78 Attitude Survey results...81 Group equivalence and reliability of the survey questions...82 v

10 Changes in students attitudes towards science...82 Attitudes of the scientists in comparison with middle school students...83 Responses of middle school students by thematic cluster...83 Summary...84 CONCUSIONS...87 Next research steps...89 Recommendations and hopeful observations for teachers...90 REFERENCES...93 APPENDICES Appendix A: Proposal to the Institutional Review Board for the protection of human subjects Appendix B: Treatment Group Curriculum Appendix C1: Testing Instruments Appendix C2: Scoring Rubrics Appendix D: Attitude Survey Appendix E: Raw Data and Other Analyses BIOGRAPHY OF THE AUTHOR vi

11 LIST OF TABLES Table 2.1: Summary of IBL studies applied in Earth and environmental sciences...27 Table 3.1: Timeframe for research unit...38 Table 4.1: Ranking used to score pre/post-tests...43 Table 5.0: Sample sizes (n)...49 Table 5.1: Equivalence of groups prior to study (Graphing)...50 Table 5.2: Equivalence of groups prior to study (Problem)...50 Table 5.3: Reliability of test questions...51 Table 5.4: Effect of treatment on post-test scores (Graphing)...52 Table 5.5: Effect of treatment on post-test Scores (Problem)...52 Table 5.6: Comparison of pre- and post-test scores within groups...55 Table 5.7: Instances of unfavorable change in students test scores...56 Table 5.8: Equivalence of groups for Attitude pre-survey...57 Table 5.9: Reliability of survey questions...58 Table 6.1: Performance on test questions and possible explanations...79 Table 6.2: Pre- and post-test use of bar graphs vs. line graphs...80 Table E.1: Raw data Pre/Post tests Table E.2: Raw data Attitude Survey (Trained scientist responses) Table E.3: Raw data Attitude Survey (Middle school student responses) Table E.4: Percent frequencies of pre- and post-test scores by question and group Table E.5: Sample sizes and reliability of test questions without Periods 4 and Table E.6: Group equivalence and effects of treatment without Periods 4 and Table E.7: Comparison of pre- and post-test scores without Periods 4 and vii

12 Table E.8: Performance of males and females on Graphing test Table E.9: Performance of males and females on Problem test Table E.10: Performance on Graphing Question Table E.11: Group effects of treatment on post-survey scores Table E.12: Comparison of survey scores within groups viii

13 LIST OF FIGURES Figure 4.1 Responses of science faculty and graduate students to Attitude Survey...45 Figure 5.1: Percentage of students with gains, losses, or no change (Test)...54 Figure 5.2: Percentage of students with gains, losses, or no change (Survey)...59 Figure 5.3: Attitude Survey: Responses by trained scientists...61 Figure 5.4: Attitude Survey: Responses by middle school students...61 Figure 5.5: Attitude Survey: Scientists favorable vs. unfavorable responses...62 Figure 5.6: Attitude Survey: Responses of middle school students by group...62 Figure 5.7: Attitude Survey: Responses of middle school students overall...63 Figure 5.8: Attitude Survey: Value of science Question Figure 5.9: Attitude Survey: Value of science Question Figure 5.10: Attitude Survey: Assessing information Question Figure 5.11: Attitude Survey: Assessing information Question Figure 5.12: Attitude Survey: Who understands science? Question Figure 5.13: Attitude Survey: Who understands science? Question Figure 5.14: Attitude Survey: Nature of science Question Figure 5.15: Attitude Survey: Nature of science Question Figure 5.16: Attitude Survey: Nature of science Question Figure 5.17: Attitude Survey: Nature of science Question ix

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15 INTRODUCTION According to media and research pundits, science education in the United States is in trouble. These days, disturbing headlines and pronouncements almost cannot be avoided. In March, 2006, The New York Times proclaimed, Test Shows Drop in Science Achievement for 12th Graders. (Dillon, 2006) Concerns have been raised about declining trends in a number of areas affecting science education and the science professions in this country. These include declines in the numbers of qualified science teachers (Mangrubang, 2005); interest in science and science course enrollments (Hilton & Lee, 1988; Mulvey & Nicholson, 2005); U.S. performance in science compared to other countries (USDOE-NCES, 1996; USDOE-NCES, 1998); and U.S. competitiveness in the global community (ETS, 2007). Some important data generated over the last ten years are mixed but do seem to support this pessimistic outcry. In 1999, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administered its final long-term trends assessment for the 20 th century. The assessment in reading, mathematics, and science compares performance of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds over a span of three decades, from 1969 to Overall, the trends in students science performance are characterized by declines in the 1970s, increases during the 1980s and the early 1990s, and fairly stable performance since then. For 9-year-olds, science performance on the NAEP assessments is better now than it was in 1969, for 13-year-olds it is about the same, and for 17-year-olds it is worse, despite the gains made since the early 1980s (Campbell, Hombo, & Mazzeo, 2000). Another study by NAEP, The Nation s Report Card: Science 2005, looked at students progress over a ten-year period from 1996 to The findings were similar 1

16 to those of the thirty-year study. The average science score of fourth-graders was higher in 2005 than in 1996; for eighth-graders there was no improvement; and for twelfthgraders the average score declined from what it had been in 1996 (Grigg, Lauko, & Brockway, 2005). The decline from middle school to high school is also reflected in an international context. In the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) conducted in 1995, U.S. eighth-graders were found to have an overall score above the international average of 41 countries participating in the study. In particular, these students were above average in earth science, life science, and environmental issues, but average in chemistry and physics (USDOE-NCES, 1996). By twelfth grade, the average scores of all U.S. students were below the average and among the lowest of all the participating countries TIMSS countries in science general knowledge. For advanced students, U.S. performance in physics and mathematics was among the lowest of 16 countries (USDOE- NCES, 1998). One response to these troubling trends in the U.S. has been to promote the use of inquiry-based learning (IBL) in the teaching of science and mathematics. In his foreword to Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards, Bruce Alberts, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, remarks that science classes that treat education as if it were preparation for a quiz show or a game of trivial pursuit...miss(es) a tremendous opportunity to give students the problem-solving, communication, and thinking skills they will need to be effective workers and citizens in the 21 st century. (NRC, 2000) In that publication, the National Research Council (NRC) has devoted 200 pages to helping teachers use inquiry in their classrooms as a way to help students 2

17 engage in many of the same activities and thinking processes as scientists... Likewise, some state education standards require that inquiry learning methods be addressed. In the Maine Learning Results (MDOE, 1997), under Standard J Inquiry and Problem Solving, it is stated that, Students will apply inquiry and problem-solving approaches in science and technology. Of particular relevance to this study, it also states, A variety of tools, including emerging technologies, assist the inquiry processes. In the Proposed Revised Maine Learning Results (MDOE, 2006), Standards B and C both address the need for students to understand the process and reasoning used in methodical scientific inquiry. What is inquiry-based learning (IBL) and why has there been resistance to implementing it in the classroom? Why is IBL challenging and why aren t more teachers using it? For this study, I have defined inquiry-based learning to refer to methods in which students are involved in asking their own questions, making their own observations, arriving at their own answers, or making their own representations of data and evidence that support their answers and conclusions. Some of the impediments to teachers for adopting IBL in classrooms are outlined in a 1986 study conducted by Costenson and Lawson. Despite the 20 year lapse in time since the study, many of the reasons teachers cited then are still relevant for teachers today, and some are even bigger impediments now as a result of the increased use of standardized tests in schools (local, state and national), and the pressures created by the No Child Left Behind Act of Here are the ten most common reasons science teachers gave for not using inquiry methods (Lawson, 1995): Time and energy (redesigning lesson plans, and keeping students interested) 3

18 Too slow (cannot cover all required material using inquiry methods) Reading too difficult (from inquiry-oriented texts) Risk is too high (administration will not trust teacher, and learning results can be unpredictable, according to the teachers) Tracking (student skill levels too low) Student immaturity (students waste time) Teaching habits (teacher too old for change) Sequential text (inquiry texts inflexible and lock teachers into specified order) Discomfort (both teacher and students) Too expensive (lab not quipped, district will not buy appropriate materials). In his book, Lawson provides counter-arguments to each of these reasons in an effort to encourage teachers to use inquiry methods in spite of all these perceived barriers. In the present study, both his views and the teachers views are acknowledged. Inquiry-based teaching can be difficult to do, and it can also be tremendously rewarding for both the teachers and the students. I investigated a particular method of inquiry-oriented teaching, namely the use of online data to answer real-world questions about changes in the environment. Before explaining the purpose of the study, it would be useful to talk about the nature of online data and why they offer a valuable learning tool for secondary school classrooms. Why use online data in the science classroom? A countless number of data sources are now accessible on the World Wide Web to anyone with Internet access and a reasonably up-to-date personal computer system. Many public agencies, particularly at the state and national levels but also some local 4

19 agencies and citizen groups, make their databases available to the public free of charge and without any usage requirements, such as membership. Here are a few of the organizations and data-types that are available: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stream flow and breeding bird survey data (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/me/nwis/rt; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) real-time and archived buoy data (http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/; National Audubon Society Christmas bird count data (http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/index.html) Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology citizen science data (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/labprograms/citsci/) National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) data (http://nadp.sws.uiuc.edu/) Maine Office of GIS data (http://apollo.ogis.state.me.us/) University of Maine s PEARL database of flora, fauna, and water quality data (http://www.pearl.maine.edu/). Besides the rich variety and free access, there are other good reasons for teachers to use this data in their classrooms: Using data offers a means of addressing inquiry-oriented national and state learning standards Data are an essential scientific tool Data offer an intelligent use of computer and Internet resources 5

20 Downloading and manipulating data offer opportunities for students to apply graphing and graph interpretation skills Using data to answer a specific real-world question can provide students a meaningful experience in scientific inquiry, and valuable practice in developing evidence to support their own conclusions Searching for and evaluating the reliability of data encourages students to exercise their democratic right of access to information, and teaches them to exercise their critical judgment as thinking citizens. In the state of Maine, there is an additional compelling reason to use data in middle school classrooms. Since September, 2002, through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative of the Department of Education, all seventh- and eighth-grade students have been issued personal laptop computers for their individual use throughout those school years. In September, 2006, this program was extended to sixth-grade students in some schools. Soon after laptops appeared in Maine s middle schools, my advisor, Dr. Molly Schauffler, began asking whether teachers were prepared to make use of data as a resource for teaching their students. From late 2003 through summer 2004, through a study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), she conducted a series of workshops with teachers to acquaint them with online data resources and the skills needed to use that data in the classroom. She also used the workshops as an opportunity to assess the skills teachers brought and the barriers they faced in being able to carry out an authentic process of scientific inquiry. One of the key observations she made was that teachers varied widely in their technological and analytical skill levels and scientific 6

21 understanding. She also noted that more workshop time and one-on-one attention was needed to help teachers achieve a deeper level of learning (Schauffler, unpublished). As a result of the workshops, it became clear that many more teachers would benefit from this kind of teacher-training and many would need assistance before they could guide their students in similar lines of inquiry. From observing the changes in teachers, questions were also raised about how students might benefit and what learning results they might achieve by participating in a similar guided-inquiry curriculum. Purpose of this study In this investigation, I wanted to find out what learning effects students might experience from using online environmental data in the science classroom. The questions posed were: To what extent do students who use online data in the context of a guided inquiry curriculum (a) improve their ability to create and use graphs to communicate evidence; (b) demonstrate improved ability to support an answer to a question using evidence; and (c) demonstrate more realistic attitudes toward science? A substantial portion of education research has focused on the learning results of college and high school students. Though there is also a great deal of research being carried out in middle schools, it is not as prevalent. I chose to work in a middle school because it seemed important to know if an effect could be had on younger students, particularly in light of the higher-order thinking required by this kind of learning activity. The supply of personal laptop computers in middle schools greatly facilitated the study s implementation and was another impetus for choosing that age group. Educational research is challenged by a number of issues. True controls are difficult to achieve. For that reason, this observational study refers to the non-treatment 7

22 group as the comparison group rather than control group. True randomization is also rarely possible, and generally is only found in large observational studies that draw from very large samples of the population. With regard to sample sizes, educational research studies can vary widely, but other studies similar to my research typically include fewer than 100 subjects. For these reasons, and because this educational research involves human beings in unpredictable pre-college educational settings, it shares some of the multivariate complexity of ecological research. Field experience is extremely valuable. In the earth, biological, ecological, and environmental sciences, it is important for students and researchers to develop a deep knowledge of the natural conditions they study, and this cannot be achieved solely from a classroom or laboratory. Engaging students in field data collection is also an important step in helping them experience the methodical and creative, but also sometimes messy and imperfect, process of doing science. At least one study has shown evidence, though, that collecting data, while important, may not be enough to affect changes in conceptual understanding. In comparing the effects of data collection, data reporting, and data analysis, it was found that, data analysis activities are among the most significant contributors to students conceptual learning and their ability to conduct inquiry (Penuel, et al., 2003). Another limitation of relying on field experiences and field data collection can be that not all schools and classrooms have the time or financial resources to engage students in meaningful field-based learning experiences. Using online data can provide an opportunity for students to develop practical skills in science and mathematics while working with genuine data sets, including ones relevant to their lives or collected near their own homes. My study will describe a curriculum in which students were guided 8

23 through a process of accessing, downloading, manipulating, graphing, and interpreting data using a specific environmental question. 9

24 LITERATURE REVIEW My study touches on three areas of educational research. Education psychology research related to cognitive development and transfer of knowledge helped to situate my investigation in terms of what we do and do not know about human intellectual development, and offers some insights as to what the seventh grade students in this study could reasonably be expected to achieve. Another area for review was the research looking at the use of inquiry-based teaching methods in schools (do we know what works and what does not?) and a third area looks at the research investigating attitudes of students toward science. Do the students in this study diverge from or reaffirm results of other studies? The studies selected for this review shared as many parameters in common with my own study as possible. For instance, although significant education research has been done in the areas of physics, mathematics, and medical training, and a great deal of research has been conducted at the high school and college undergraduate levels, studies that focus on environmental and life science topics, particularly at the middle school levels, have been given priority in this review. Capabilities of middle school students For this topic, I especially wanted to know what developmental theorists and researchers currently understand about the intellectual and cognitive capabilities of middle school students. Are there well-delineated innate abilities for different age groups and, if so, what could I reasonably expect the students who participated in my study to be capable of intellectually and cognitively? 10

25 To what extent do middle school students transfer knowledge to new situations? As they are increasingly bombarded by science-based (or pseudo-scientific) claims in news, advertising, and civic life, it is more important that citizens are able to apply science-related learning in everyday decision-making. This was one implicit goal of the curriculum and testing instruments I used in this study. Cognitive development What capabilities do individuals need in order to be successful at understanding science content? Johnson and Lawson (1998) said reasoning ability, more than prior knowledge or the number of previous biology classes, accounted for a significant amount of the variance (i.e. limited students achievement) in final examination scores for 366 students in both expository and inquiry-oriented college biology classes. On the other hand, in their rich discussion about the differences between experts and novices, Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (1999) said experts rely on a rich body of knowledge about subject matter to think and solve problems. The distinction, though, may be in the way experts connect and organize their knowledge around important concepts (sometimes referred to as chunking ), and experts seem to interpret knowledge and create contexts of applicability that facilitate their thinking and reasoning. Are there well-defined ages at which people first appear to demonstrate reasoning and higher-order thinking? Jean Piaget proposed four stages of intellectual development: sensory-motor, pre-operational, concrete operational, and formal operational thought (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). Some aspects of Piaget s theory have come to be viewed as problematic (Lawson, 1995). Lawson prefers to use the terms empirical-inductive and hypothetical-deductive to emphasize the differences between what he calls child-like 11

26 and adult-like thinking. In the former, thinking is initiated mainly through concrete observations. In the latter, individuals are able to carry out more hypothetical modes of thinking using what they are able to imagine. Lawson does not suggest any age norms for these two stages but he outlines strong empirical evidence to suggest that before age seven there are well-delineated age thresholds in the development of procedural knowledge. According to Lawson, past age seven the lines begin to blur for defining age-related cognitive development. Individuals are generally expected to achieve highorder thinking skills by about age 12, but Lawson says some evidence has shown that even at age eight or nine people may be capable of fairly sophisticated deductive reasoning. Appropriate encouragement and language development are tied to this intellectual development (Lawson, 1995). Knowledge transfer The study of knowledge transfer has proved troublesome for researchers (Detterman & Sternberg, 1993; Lawson, 1995). In 1993, Detterman took a rather skeptical view of transfer and warned not to confuse a talent for following rules or instructions with actual ability to transfer. He said that in the rare cases where transfer occurred it was between highly similar situations. Detterman also believed that experts are good at what they do not necessarily because they are good at transferring but more because they just know a lot. Transfer researchers refer to various kinds of transfer (lateral and vertical, specific and nonspecific, near and far, literal and figural). The goal of helping students learn to do transfer is to help them apply knowledge learned in one context to other situations. For example, mathematics teachers want their students to be able to take the concept of 12

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