Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Science Immersion: Summer Programs That Expose Students to Authentic Scientific Research

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Science Immersion: Summer Programs That Expose Students to Authentic Scientific Research

Article excerpt

Have you ever contributed to cutting-edge scientific research? For many, the opportunity to do so first occurs in college or graduate school. High school students may get a taste of real science during science fairs but rarely have opportunities to legitimately participate as members of professional scientific communities. This article discusses summer programs that let high school students participate in an authentic scientific research experience (ASRE) as well as ways their teachers can help make these experiences possible and productive.

ASRE programs are those in which science students collect and analyze meaningful data to help professional scientists generate scientific knowledge. Such opportunities can be difficult to include in high school classrooms. Traditional school science laboratory exercises tend to be used to reinforce content objectives and are cognitively different from authentic forms of scientific investigation (Chinn and Malhotra 2002). In authentic scientific research, questions and protocols are selected to develop deeper and novel understandings of the natural world. These processes involve collaboration, creativity, and uncertainty and can be exciting as new insights emerge. They also align nicely with the scientific and engineering practices that are so important in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013):

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)

2. Developing and using models

3. Planning and carrying out investigations

4. Analyzing and interpreting data

5. Using mathematics, information and computer technology, and computational thinking

6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)

7. Engaging in argument from evidence

8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information


There are several models for engaging learners in authentic science. Programs such as Forest Watch and Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) allow science classes to collect and report data used by working scientists (Means 1998). Another opportunity comes through science fair projects and independent research in which students individually partner with a scientist mentor. This article focuses on summer programs specifically designed to embed students in working laboratories and research groups. It's not too early for students to start planning such an experience for next summer.

Our review of research into ASRE programs has revealed numerous positive outcomes for students (Sadler et al. 2010). Among them are deeper understandings of science content and nature of science (NOS) (Ritchie and Rigano 1996), the fostering of science-related career aspirations (Abraham 2002), and greater confidence in one's abilities to engage in science (Stake and Mares 2005). Research experiences can help students appreciate the messiness, complexity, and uncertainty of scientific research as they conduct investigations in ways that do not necessarily conform to a single "scientific method." Students also may come to better understand the social contexts of scientific research processes as they become working members of laboratory groups (Burgin, Sadler, and Koroly 2012).

Examples of summer ASRE programs

Summer ASRE programs for secondary learners range in length from a couple of weeks to a few months and typically are offered through universities. Program foci range from traditional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines to more specific topics such as nan-otechnology and biomedical engineering. Most of the programs are designed for rising high school juniors and seniors who are motivated in mathematics and science. Some are residential (students live in college dormitories) and can be costly. Note that many programs offer scholarships, particularly for students with demonstrated financial needs. …

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