Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Creating an Atmosphere for STEM Literacy in the Rural South through Student-Collected Weather Data

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Creating an Atmosphere for STEM Literacy in the Rural South through Student-Collected Weather Data

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

''I put the weather station right in between our garden and the cotton field next to the school ...weusethedata from the weather station with the garden that we are working on and then our parents use it in the cotton field for their crops.''

Theresa Do, middle school teacher

Ms. Do is one of 30 middle school teachers from rural parishes in northeast Louisiana that participated in a professional development program that provided teachers and their students the methods and materials to collect and analyze data from large-scale and school-based weather stations as a way to support student literacy in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Her school is located in one of the poorest regions of one of the poorest states in the United States.

''Demographics make a difference in terms of learning because of resources. Especially in science-it is all about technology and how it can be relevant and used in every life.'' (Do)

The program uses a curricular model that combines experiential and place-based educational approaches to create a rich and relevant atmosphere for STEM learning that has the potential to engage traditionally underserved students in the rural south. This model is particularly salient as new national standards are adopted for teaching Science in K-12 education. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) highlights the importance of students collecting data and analyzing claims and evidence within a real-world context. ''Experiential education is a process through which a learner constructs knowledge, skill, and value from direct experiences'' (Proudman, 1995, 1-2). A critical element of experiential education is a shift in the locus of control from the teacher to the learner, as she or he directly experiences authentic learning tasks. The role of teacher becomes that of architect and coach, creating the structures and support that facilitate learning in a dynamic real-world setting.

Place-based education (PBE) aligns pedagogically with an experiential approach, but situates the direct experiences geographically and culturally. Place-based science education has proven to be a successful approach for engaging diverse learners in meaningful scientific inquiry, and has been advocated for its relevance and potential to attract under-represented groups to science (Emekauwa, 2004; Lim and Calabrese Barton, 2006). The approach grounds scientific concepts in the student's own environment, and actively engages students in the collection of local data to address local issues (Sobel, 2005; Smith, 2007). Key characteristics of PBE include an interdisciplinary approach to curriculum development, a focus on activities that ''cross boundaries between the school and community,'' and a charge for students to ''become the creators of knowledge'' (Woodhouse & Knapp, 2000, 242).

Funded by Louisiana Systemic Initiatives Program (LaSIP), faculty from the disciplines of education, biology and atmospheric sciences at the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) developed a field-based science teacher professional development program, Out Standing in the Field (OSF), for area middle school teachers. The professional development program, carried out in two phases, leveraged local natural resources by taking middle school teachers and students into the field to do hands-on science investigations in life and Earth sciences.

During Phase I of the program (LaSIP 10-210-ULM-8), 25 middle school teachers were taken to local research sites (e.g., Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Restoration Park, West Monroe, LA) to work side-by-side with scientists with ongoing research at these sites. This collaboration provided teachers with local environmental data that could be used to develop lessons and activities both in the field and in the classroom. This phase took teachers and students out of their classrooms and introduced them to the real-world science carried out in their local ecosystems. …

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