Data Explorations in Ecology Project (DEEP)

This project evaluates the benefits of using different types of place-based ecological data in high school science classrooms. This project will assess the use of first-hand (collected by students) and real-time second-hand data in teaching science and critical thinking skills. The guiding question for the project is "Does using place-based, first-hand ecological evidence, and relating that to place-based, second-hand data, improve students' environmental science literacy, nature of science understanding, and knowledge of ecological concepts?"

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020186
Funding Period: 
Wednesday, September 1, 2010 to Saturday, August 31, 2013
Full Description: 

This project evaluates the benefits of using different types of place-based ecological data in high school science classrooms. This project will combine and assess the use of first-hand (collected by students) and real-time second-hand data in teaching science and critical thinking skills. The guiding question for the project is "Does using place-based, first-hand ecological evidence, and relating that to place-based, second-hand data, improve students' environmental science literacy, nature of science understanding, and knowledge of ecological concepts?" Other questions the proposed project will explore include: How can teachers best engage students in understanding and evaluating critical environmental problems through the use of data? Does the use of real-time data in the classroom help connect students with science content and/or the scientific research community? What knowledge and skills do teachers need in order to make effective use of the data being made available to them by ecological monitoring networks such as National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)?

To answer these questions, a place-based, ecology curriculum, the Changing Hudson Project, will be used along with data and field trips provided by regional partners. A quasi-experimental study in high school classes in the Mid-Hudson Valley of NY will compare different instructional models, providing preliminary evidence of the relative strengths and limitations of different approaches. A range of formative assessment methods will be used to describe and assess students' understanding of ecology, and their engagement, motivation and capacity for collecting, analyzing, and applying ecological data. The evaluation will include pre-and post-assessments given to students in the treatment classrooms and in a comparison classroom in the same schools. Questionnaires, focus group interviews, and student portfolios will be used to assess student understanding and dispositions in sample classrooms.

This proposal addresses an exciting and interesting area of research regarding the inquiry approach to science and the utility of cyber-enabled science investigations. Many K-12 teachers find it difficult to expose students to the real environment. Field trips can be expensive, and liability concerns scare many teachers and especially school administrators away from allowing students to experience natural settings outside of the classroom. This phenomenon is lamented by ecologists and has led to a movement to get kids outside more. The concern is that students today have a 'Nature Deficit Disorder,' as coined by Richard Louv in his book 'Last Child in the Woods.' Advocates of cyber-learning propose that technology provides a solution by allowing students to experience the outside world virtually, and that they can collect and analyze ecological data from the comfort of their classroom desks. Virtual experiences may be better than no experience at all, but how do they compare with first-hand experiences? This proposal aims to determine how virtual experiences compare to real-life experiences with regard to understanding ecological concepts, analyzing ecological data, and drawing scientifically-reasoned, valid conclusions.

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