Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Using Undergraduate Students and the Internet to Enhance Middle School Science Education

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Using Undergraduate Students and the Internet to Enhance Middle School Science Education

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Internet has created new and innovative opportunities for natural resources education. At Virginia Tech we have developed a multi-faceted program for use by middle school students. The program involves web-based instructional material; classroom visits by undergraduate students and faculty from the College of Natural Resources; and facilitates data collection and reporting over the internet by the middle school students. The results of six years experience with the program are discussed in detail. Pre-testing of middle school students indicates a need for outreach programs, based on their lack of knowledge about natural resources, and attitudes that are incongruent with natural resources management.

Introduction

International studies of K-12 math and science achievement over the past 30 years show that US students have not performed as well as might be expected in comparison with their peers in other nations (NCES, 2004). The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), conducted in 1995, and involving over a half-million students from 41 countries, provides a benchmark for comparing math and science achievement across five grade levels. It reveals a pattern of declining science achievement as US students progress from elementary to high school (Calsyn et al., 1999).

The 1995 TIMSS study revealed that U.S. fourth graders scored above average in both mathematics and science compared with 26 nations, and were surpassed by only one country-Korea-in science (Beaton et al., 1997). U.S. eighth graders, on the other hand, scored below average in mathematics achievement and above average in science achievement, compared to 41 nations (Peake, 1996). By the time US students reached their final year of high school they were significantly below their peers in 21 countries (Mullis et al., 1998). However, TIMSS benchmarks have been criticized for not controlling such factors as student selectivity, curriculum emphases, and the proportion of low-income students in the test taking population (Rotberg, 1998).

The latest TIMSS study, now referred to as Trends in Mathematics and Science Study, (Martin et al., 2004) finds that US student achievement has increased in grade eight and decreased in grade four, since the original benchmarks were taken. Interestingly, the study shows a shrinking achievement gap between white and minority students in science in the US (Bhattacharjee, 2004). The original benchmarks show no direct correlation with factors commonly associated with student achievement-time spent in class, amount of homework, hours spent watching TV (Vogel, 1996, 1998).

Along with performance in science, environmental literacy in the US has much room for improvement. A study of US adults (NEETF 1997) shows that two-thirds cannot correctly answer 12 questions about the environment, including 23% who are unable to identify run-off as the leading cause of water pollution, and 33% who do not know that burning fossil fuels is America's primary method for generating electricity. Furthermore, misinformation may be as big a cause of the problem as lack of information. In a study of US schoolchildren, researchers found that television was the most pervasive source of environmental information (NEETF 1994; Roper 2002).

In 1998 the Virginia Tech Department of Forestry began an outreach program to middle schools that involved a web site, undergraduate student presentations to middle school classrooms, and scientific investigations conducted by middle school students and reported over the internet. The program began in part to meet the national need for science education in the middle school years, as evidenced by the TIMSS rankings, which drop precipitously between elementary and high school, and to help Virginia teachers meet their state Standards of Learning (SOL) (Board of Education, 2004). Like many states, Virginia has adopted standards that describe expectations for student learning and achievement and detail the specific knowledge and skills students must possess in order to graduate from high school. …

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