Do Authentic Science Lessons Change Students Attitudes Towards Science? Essay

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to determine if teaching authentic lessons to sixth grade students at Alexander Graham (A.G.) Middle School will improve their scores on the enjoyment of science lessons and their attitudes towards science by using the TOSRA (Test of Science-Related Attitudes). We will utilize a quantitative study by following a quasi-experimental design that will measure the attitudes of students at an urban school within a large district in North Carolina. We believe that if students are able to participate in an authentic ecology unit, this will increase their attitude towards science classes.

This study will take place at A. G. Middle School in two sixth grade Academic Enrichment classes that have students with similar demographics, 5th grade EOG scores of level III and IV, and class size. The researchers will have the experimental group complete the authentic ecology unit and the control group will complete the traditional instruction ecology unit with the same objectives. This study will be conducted by two 6th grade science teachers, one of the researchers will be embedded in the process of conducting the study. The results will show that students who participate in the authentic ecology unit will have a more positive attitude toward science and find it more enjoyable. The two science classes that will participate in this study will both receive the same information within the same nine week quarter.

Introduction

It can be challenging when teaching science to sixth grade middle school students who have little prior knowledge and lack of positive experiences. This situation can lead to students struggling and deciding at an early age that science is too difficult and begin to find it irrelevant to their lives. “For some time, science educators in many countries have expressed concerns that current provision in schools (especially at age 14-16 years) is all too often boring, irrelevant, and outdated; designed only to educate a minority of future scientist, rather than equipping the majority with the scientific understanding, reasoning, and literacy they require to engage as citizens in the twenty-first century” (Braunda & Reiss, 2006). The aim of this study is: Does teaching authentic lessons to sixth grade students at A. G. Middle School improve their scores on the enjoyment of science lessons and attitudes towards science using the TOSRA?

Middle school science teachers must become more effective in developing authentic lessons in order to increase students’ attitudes. Authentic lessons are activities created in order for students to experience and investigate real world problems that are relevant within students’ community. Real world problems are experiences that students encounter in their lives. In science these encounters include runoff, urban sprawl, and soil testing. “Through authentic learning students become empowered through their new found knowledge as they explore their own questions and begin to see the impact of their decisions on student learning” (Elliott C., 2007). This allows for the students to become more independent learners who become life-long learners.

Limitations and Delimitations

Only a set of thirty students will be able to participate in the authentic activities because of grant funding. Due to convenience the only students involved in the study are sixty students who received a level three or four on the fifth grade North Carolina End of Grades Test (EOG). Upon completion of the authentic ecology unit, we hypothesize that the control group will show minimal increases in their attitudes towards science classes based on the TOSRA. Based on the TOSRA, participants in the experimental group will show a significant positive increase in their attitude towards science classes. “Reviewed decades of research pertaining to attitudes, finding the attitudes of science students to be positively correlated with academic achievement and participation in advanced science courses: (Papanastasiou & Zembylas, 2004). More longitudinal studies that document students attitudes over a period of time need to be done.

Literature Review

Based on available research, it is undeniable that if students are provided with authentic lessons opposed to traditional lessons they will develop a more positive attitude towards science. “Authentic instruction in the context of community events leads students to make natural connections between the content they are learning in the classroom and their service learning experiences” (Soslau &Yost, 2007). This type of instruction creates environments where students are able to answer higher order thinking questions, formulate hypotheses, develop a deeper understanding of the topic, and apply learning to situations outside the classroom.

Many teachers are still using the traditional style of instruction that involves teacher centered classrooms, which are text book driven. Our study will help support the theories that using authentic activities in the classroom will not only improve students’ attitudes in science, but also increase student engagement. Research supports the connection between active engagement (high participation) and the use of authentic activities in classrooms. Students who perceive class work to be authentic show enhanced engagement during school. With the 21st century curriculum being reformed to incorporate more authentic learning in the classroom students will become skilled workers (Certo, Cauley, & Chafin, 2003).

Authentic lessons allow the teacher to go beyond the traditional teaching methods and promote and practice new learning habits (Harris & Katz, 2001). “It motivates the students to think critically, challenges them to learn. The students have to think in original ways to come up with solutions to these real world problems. It helps with their creative thinking skills by showing that there are many ways to solve a problem. Through the construction of personally-meaningful artifacts, learners represent what they’ve learned” (Harel & Papert, 1991 cited by Grant M., 2002). “In addition, learners typically have more autonomy over what they learn, maintaining interest and motivating learners to take more responsibility for their learning” (Tassinari, 1996; Wolk, 1994; Worthy, 2000). By increasing autonomy, learners will be able to “shape their projects to fit their own interests and abilities.” “So, project-based learning and the construction of artifacts enable the expression of diversity in learners, such as interests, abilities and learning styles” (Faris, 2008).

Authentic learning has been influential in the development of students’ positive attitudes towards science, teaching with authentic lessons increase students’ attitudes towards science lessons and willingness to learn new science material (Walker & Lofton, 2003). According to the results of a study done in Richmond Virginia, students preferred instructional activities that were engaging, hands-on, and contained opportunities for debate and discussions. Students perceived their best classes were often challenging, where they learned new things or had new experiences through real world activities or problem-solving. From students’ perspectives, engaging teachers communicated, cared, and enthusiastically provided for active learning (Certo, Cauley, & Chafin, 2003).

Authentic learning can be best summarized by John Dewey, an educational psychologists, learning is most effective when students are doing and experiencing.

Method

This quantitative, Quasi experimental study will be conducted with two sixth grade science classes at A. G. Middle School. This urban school is embedded within the students’ community. There are a total of 1077 students that attend the school, 63.6% of these students are at or above grade level, 62% of the students that attend are white, 27% black and 11% is other. In this Quasi experiment, the researchers will compare the two groups attitude and enjoyment of science using the TOSRA as a pre and post test. Both the experimental group and control group will consist of thirty sixth- graders at A.G. Middle School from an Academic Enrichment class. The experimental group will be taught the Ecology Unit through authentic lessons using Briar Creek that is located near the school campus. The control group will be taught the same unit using traditional teaching styles. The dependent variables in this study are the students’ attitudes and their enjoyment towards science. The independent variable influencing the dependent variable will be the authentic Ecology unit taught by Discovery Place staff. The researchers will compare the results of the pre and post test to construct support for the hypothesis.

The participants in this study will be a convenient sample. We will have access to the participants due to one researcher teaching at a school that was selected to partake in the Discovery Place Ecology Unit. One researcher will be embedded in the process as a science teacher who will partake in teaching the authentic ecology unit. The participants will be given the TOSRA as a pre-test to evaluate their enjoyment towards science lessons and attitudes towards science. The participants will then complete an authentic lesson on Ecology for a period of seven weeks taught by Discovery Place.

Quasi-Experimental Design:

Use an Academic Enrichment class at AG Middle as control group

Give pre test(TOSRA attitude about science career to class)

No treatment(Teach same ecology objectives with textbook)

Give post test( TOSRA attitude about science careers) after ecology unit

Use an Academic Enrichment class as experimental group

Give pre test(TOSRA attitude about science career to class)

Experimental Treatment(Teach ecology objectives with Discovery Place)

Give post test( TOSRA attitude about science careers)after ecology unit

Instruments

Test of Science-Related Attitudes (TOSRA) is the instrument used to measure the student’s attitudes towards science. The TOSRA measures seven distinct science-related attitudes among students that are suitable for administration within a normal class lesson. The scales used are referred to as the “Social Implications of Science, Normality of Scientists, Attitude to Scientific Inquiry, Adoption of Scientific Attitudes, Enjoyment of Science Lessons, Leisure Interest in Science, and Career Interest in Science” (Fraser, 1981, pp. 1). Due to the extensive field testing and prestigious development, the TOSRA has shown to be highly reliable. The TOSRA is available for use by administrators, teachers, educational evaluators, and researchers to observe the progress of student’s attitudes towards evident aims. This can be done for individual students, but is most helpful for analyzing groups or classes of students. The TOSRA is useful for obtaining information about changes in attitudes at a particular time or over a period of time by using a pre-test and post-test (longitudinal method).

Hurd (1970) promotes the importance of attitudinal aims in his reviews of overseas curriculum packages, such as the Australian Science Education Project (ASEP, 1974). This research supports the high regard and important aims given to science-related attitudes in many countries. Student’s attitudes towards science are seen as a common problem among science teachers across Australia, according to a survey completed by ASEP teachers (Owen, 1977). Much confusion has been attributed to assigning a meaning on the ‘attitude to science’ (Klopfer, 1971). This research has led to a comprehensive classification scheme being assigned to six different categories of the attitudinal aims. These six categories have contributed to the seven scales used in the TOSRA, Table 1. The seven TOSRA categories involve social implications of science (S), normality of scientists (N), attitude to scientific inquiry (I), adoption of scientific attitudes (A), enjoyment of science lessons (E), leisure interest in science (L), and career interest in science (C). This study will only utilize categories 4 (Adoption of Scientific Attitudes, A) and 5 (Enjoyment of Science Lessons, E), in Appendix I.

Scale name

Klopfer (1971) classification

Social Implications of Science (S)

H.1: Manifestation of favourable attitudes towards science and scientists

Normality of Scientists (N)

Attitude to Scientific Inquiry (I)

H.2: Acceptance of scientific inquiry as a way of thought

Adoption of Scientific Attitudes (A)

H.3: Adoption of ‘scientific attitudes’

Enjoyment of Science Lessons (E)

H.4: Enjoyment of science learning experiences

Leisure Interest in Science (L)

H.5: Development of interest in science and science-related activities

Career Interest in Science ( C)

H.6: Development of interest in pursuing a career in science

Table 1 Name and Classification of Each Scale in TOSRA (Fraser, 1981, pp. 2)

A response format is included in the TOSRA items, first described by Likert (1932). “This format requires students to express their degree of agreement with each statement on a five-point scale consisting of the responses Strongly agree (SA), Agree (A), Not sure (N), Disagree (D), and Strongly disagree (SD). Scoring involves allotting 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 for the responses SA, A, N, D, SD, respectively, for items designated as positive (+) and allotting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 for the responses SA, A, N, D, SD, respectively, for items designated as negative (-)” (Fraser, 1981). In order to minimize the possibility of faking responses, the teacher will make it clear that the TOSRA results will not be used for grading. The reliability consistency or TOSRA scales was determined by analyzing test-retest coefficients and determining their means. According to this analysis, all TOSRA scales showed quite excellent test-retest reliability.

Procedure

To begin the experiment, the students will be given the TOSRA. Through the TOSRA the students will express their feeling about science enjoyment and their attitude towards science, circling one answer for each of the ten questions. The TOSRA serves as a pre-test to measure each student’s attitude towards science classes and will be followed by a post-test at the end of the unit. The objective of the ecology unit is for students to investigate how humans impact our environment. They will be able to observe how living things interact with the environment by studying soil testing, water testing, macro invertebrates, air quality, and environmental awareness.

We will conduct our research project at Alexander Graham Middle School in two sixth grade classrooms during an Academic Enrichment (AE). This class is designed to challenge students that are high achieving in academics based on previous EOG scores in 5th grade. The AE classes are designed to challenge students to become critical problem solvers and provide them with opportunities that will enhance the North Carolina Standard Course of Study. Every nine weeks, the students rotate on a wheel through four Academic Enrichment classes: Science Exploration, Problem Solving, Current Events, and AVID. The experiment will take place in the two sixth grade Science Exploration Academic Enrichment classes, which is a forty minute class, which meets every day for nine weeks. The students will be told that Discovery Place Science Reach staff will come to our class throughout the quarter to conduct an ecology workshop. The teacher will also explain that the students will have the option to participate in a study by conducting pre and post test about their attitudes and enjoyment toward science. The teachers will send home consent and assent forms (Appendices II and III) for students and parents to review and sign. It will be made clear that regardless of student’s participation in the TOSRA test, they will all be participating in the ecology workshop with Discovery Place.

The ecology unit will be taught to both the experimental and control group over a six week period. Students in the experimental group will follow the outline below. They will role play as scientist by collecting real data from their campus and surroundings while using tools that scientist utilize in the field. Activities such as observing the air quality around campus and testing the water quality will be implemented. The Raptor Center will also come in with a variety of wildlife to help students understand the importance of habitats in our community and what we can do to protect them.

The control group will do the same objectives but instead of students being actively engaged participants, the lessons will all be teacher-centered. Students will read about how scientists conduct water testing, soil testing, and air quality test to better understand the relevancy of these issues in relations to their communities. Students will look at pictures of animals that the teacher brings into the classroom. These pictures will consist of animals that are endangered or have become extinct. They will use the McDougal Little 6th grade textbook to learn the terminology by coping definitions and related lessons.

Ecology Unit for Experimental Group

Week One: The Hydrosphere

Water Testing- students test their water samples for impurities using dissolved Oxygen, nitrates, phosphates, and Coliform Bacteria tests.

Macroinvertebrate Study- students collect, identify and study macroinvertebrates for the purpose of monitoring overall stream health and water quality.

Week Two: The Lithosphere

Soil Sampling- students learn the proper techniques for soil collecting and sample for pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (or potash). Students then learn what the indicators mean and what those indicators tell us about soil quality and it’s ability to support plant life.

Decomposers- students learn how decomposers contribute to healthy soils and observe earth worm behaviors and characteristics up close.

Week Three: The Atmosphere

Air Quality Testing- students learn proper techniques for preparing agar plates and test air quality both inside and outside the school. Students will then incubate the plates and study the colony growth on both nutrient and starch agar plates.

Week Four: The Biosphere

Interconnectivity- students will perform quadrat studies to see how flora, fauna, and non-living thing interact within a specific plot.

Food Chains & Food Web Activity-

Visit from Carolina Raptor Center to demonstrate interdependence of organisms within the food chains of birds of prey.

Week Five: Population Ecology

Population Study- students will replicate the speckled moth natural selection experiment. They will learn about Dr. Kettlewell’s original observations and studies of the moths outside Manchester, England.

Week Six: Our Environment

Recycling and Environmental Awareness

Composting Activity

After the completion of the Ecology unit, both sets of students will be given the TOSRA again; this time as a post-test. Results of the post-test will be compared to the pre-test. This will allow us to analyze any changes in the students’ enjoyment of science and attitudes towards science classes. This data will provide any changes discovered between the experimental and control group and their attitudes towards science classes based on style of learning.

Results

The data for this study will be collected and analyzed for review following the 6 week unit on ecology. The conditions for collecting the data will be the same for both the control and experimental group. Pre and post test results will be displayed in a table. The researcher will find the mean and standard deviation of the pre and post test for each group. The data will be analyzed to verify if there is a significant difference between group means.

Pre-test

Mean

Standard deviation

Treatment group

Control group

Post test

Mean

Standard deviation

Treatment group

Control group

Significance of the Study

Assuming that the proposed hypothesis produces positive results within the experimental group in promoting positive attitudes towards science classes, this study could be very beneficial to educators across the country. Students will be more apt to have better attitudes about careers in science when using authentic lessons in the classrooms. Based on these findings, teachers can begin to incorporate lessons where students are able to learn new material as it relates to the world around them. Educators can develop workshops that train teachers how to incorporate the use of authentic lessons in all content areas, not just science. This study is essential to all teachers who have a hard time building a rapport and motivating students. Authentic lessons will provide both teacher and student opportunities to actively engage in lessons, while being immersed with one another in relevant lessons connected to real issues. This is evident in a student’s response to previous research, “I never thought that science could be so close to my daily life style” (Farris, 2008).

Expected Results

The data collected will pose a significant difference between post attitude scores between the experimental and control groups. There will be a positive change in the attitudes of the experimental group student’s towards science class. These results are in correlation with what was discovered in various literature reviews.

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