Friday, June 28, 2013

Theoretical perspective of proposed research on outdoor science

The theory that I will use is cognitive constructivism.  Piaget’s cognitive development theory launched the constructivist approach and fits well with many of the articles and studies that were found in a review of related literature.

As the pilot study begins, students take pre-tests on both content and attitude regarding learning science outdoors. Following the pre-tests, students leave the regular, indoor classroom to venture to the schoolyard for a science lesson on an environmental standard. Cognitive constructivism has the potential to reveal students’ learning in ways possibly not nurtured indoors. The will be immersed in the ecosystem that they are learning about. The study will rely greatly on the views of the participants, hence the attitude survey (Creswell, 2014). When the constructivist theory is applied to this research, it is an interconnected  hypothesis (Creswell, 2014). The research will be looking for ways in which the attitude toward learning outdoors influences student achievement on an environmental standard in elementary schools.  With an interconnected hypothesis, ample opportunity to follow up with additional research may present itself. For instance, how might achievement alone be affected by teaching science outdoors? This has been attempted once before, but no evidence of replicating the study has been found (Cronin-Jones, L. 2000).

The researcher plans for the pilot a smaller study that involves fewer students, but maintains the same essence as the proposal to carry out the full research project later. The pilot may shed light on how the constructivist theory applies in this situation. Will students make sense of the outdoor science lesson differently than they would if it were taught indoors? How will the setting affect them? When considering engagement in outdoor learning, an important theoretical question might be whether students are more likely to construct their own meaning when immersed in the setting that contains the object of study. For example, if a student is studying how butterflies react to trees or other plants, is it better to be among living specimens as opposed to in an indoor classroom? That is the premise of some works that have been published (Rich, 2010). Though the advent of the five E’s came long after Piaget’s work on cognitive constructivism, the “engage” step of this model would suggest that perhaps the immersion in the natural environment would have some bearing on the students’ learning  (Chitman-Booker, L., Kopp, K. 2013).

What remains to be seen is the true interconnectedness of the hypotheses in this pilot and the eventual study. If attitude and achievement can be linked, there would be room for future study in that direction. Even if there is no link shown in the results, follow up to this study could result in contributions to the field of science education and particularly environmental education.



Chitman-Booker, L., Kopp, K. (2013). The 5 E’s of inquiry-based science. Huntington Beach, CA. Shell Education.

Creswell, J., (2014). Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications, Inc.

Cronin-Jones, L. (2000). The effectiveness of schoolyards as sites for elementary science instruction.  School Science & Mathematics, 100,


Rich, S. (2012). Bringing outdoor science in: thrifty classroom lessons. Washington, D.C. NSTA Press.

Rich, S. (2010). Outdoor science: a practical guide. Washington, D.C. NSTA Press.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sea Turtle Nests on Ossabaw Island

This week I brought 17 educators to Ossabaw Island to study sea turtles. The first night out we saw four turtles. For one, we watched the complete nesting process. We encountered two of the others when they had finished and were headed back to the ocean. Just before heading in for the night, we saw one more coming in. The tide was low and she had a long way to walk, so we left her to her task and retreated by truck 8 miles back to the club house. Teachers are mesmerized and inspired by seeing nature in action. My task now is to help them figure out how to turn this adventure into a learning opportunity for their students. I look forward to seeing the teachers make meaning of their experiences on this magnificent barrier island.

In my doctoral program we are currently studying leadership for change. For this trip to Ossabaw, I am practicing my leadership skills. I am also hoping the teachers here become teacher leaders and share this experience with colleagues and students in a meaningful and creative way.

Outdoor Science: Attitudes & Achievement
(A graphic of a literature map on this topic can be obtained by emailing )
Limiting the literature review for the pilot study helps to see more clearly the focus on studying
environmental topics in science outdoors. Relatively little has been researched to date on student
attitude and achievement in this field. Two works each deserve individual categories. There is one
seminal work on achievement (Cronin-Jones 2002). In the field of environmental science, the seminal
 work is Louv (2005). Louv’s book is the work that garnered the attention of the environmental
education community, the science education community, and to some extent the general public.

Cronin-Jones, L. (2000). The effectiveness   of schoolyards as sites for elementary science
   instruction.  School Science & Mathematics, 100, 203-212.
Louv, R. (2005).  Last child in the woods, Chapel Hill, N.C., Algonquin Books.
Hilson, M. P. & Trundle, K. C. (2012) Shadow Play: Linking shadows to learning about seasons.
     Science & Children, 49(5), 31-35.
Marcum-Dietrich, N., Marquez, L., Gill, S. E., & Medved, C. (2011). No teacher left inside:
     preparing a new generation of teachers. Geoscience Education, 59(1), 1-4.
Nelson, A. (2010). Environmental education & ecology in a life science course for preservice K-8
     teachers using project wildlife in learning design. The American Biology Teacher, 72(3), 156-


Friday, June 14, 2013

Constructivism - Worldview Journal/Blog


The worldview with which I most identify is the constructivist approach. It fits well with my approach to science teaching and learning, as well as to the work I do in teacher professional learning. As a subject area, science fits well with the constructivist approach as well. Inquiry science in particular meshes with this worldview.

In The 5 E’s of inquiry based science (Chitman-Booker, Kopp, 2013) the authors have based their approach on the constructivist model. “Constructivism is a learning strategy that builds on students’ prior knowledge, ideas, and skill sets,” they say. Engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate make up the 5 E’s. The constructivist model would run through all of these steps in inquiry based science instruction.

My research bases itself in work that I have been doing for many years with outdoor classrooms, outdoor learning, and bringing natural materials from outdoors into the regular science classroom (Rich, 2010). During the pilot for my study, students will have a learning experience outdoors following pre-tests on both content and attitude toward learning outdoors. The constructivist approach to teaching will form the basis for the structure of the instruction. Students will be asked to explore a science topic outdoors potentially constructing their own meaning about how plants and animals fit into their natural world. As such, they will likely be influenced by prior experience. This will however fit with the constructivist notion that they would be actively continuing to build their understanding.

The study will have posttests for attitude and content. These may shed light on the degree to which students constructed their own meaning. Anecdotal evidence may be helpful in written responses from the teachers involved. Perhaps this would give evidence of where the teachers are in constructing their own meanings around science content.

Social constructivism and constructivism are sometimes used interchangeably in academic literature. Whichever term dominates, constructivism is most typically an approach to qualitative research (Creswell, 2014). The research that I have proposed will indeed be quantitative, but will have an element of qualitative, as one of the surveys/tests will be attitudinal in nature. While the quantitative data from this will be the focus, further research might consider the ideas expressed in additional qualitative analysis.  It is however, the science content and setting that will be very closely tied to the constructivist views of teaching and learning. One of the aspects of the journey that may prove interesting is considering what knowledge based is constructed through the outdoor experience that students will have. While one hopes others will value the results of the research, it is true that this researcher looks forward to the results, what they mean, and how they relate to the constructivist approach that is so often successful in science education.


Chitman-Booker, L., Kopp, K. (2013). The 5 E’s of inquiry-based science. Huntington Beach, CA. Shell Education.

Creswell, J., (2014). Research design: qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications, Inc.

Rich, S. (2010). Outdoor science: a practical guide. Washington, D.C. NSTA Press.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

In the existing literature relating science achievement to outdoor learning, one study (Cronin-Jones, 2000) stands out as the one that most closely matches my proposed research. Though slightly dated, it is the only available study that has directly tackled this specific topic. The following summarizes this significant work.

Research Questions

1.      Do elementary students receiving outdoor schoolyard-based instruction learn more about basic ecological concepts than students receiving no formal instruction or traditional classroom-based instruction?

2.      Do elementary students receiving outdoor schoolyard-based instruction develop more positive attitudes toward natural settings and their inhabitants than students receiving no formal instruction or traditional classroom-based instruction?

Theoretical Perspective

The perspective of this study is unique in that it does not adhere to an overarching well-known educational theory. The researcher considers a variety of works by those who have studied teaching outdoors and acknowledges that there was at the time a limited body of knowledge on this area of education. This study examined both achievement and how student attitudes toward learning outdoors may have changed.

Research Paradigm

This study was conducted prior to the most well-known, if not the most significant work in this field was published (Louv, 2005). It broke new ground for science teachers and environmental educators. Though solid suggestions for future research were presented, few if any are found in a review of literature from the time of this study until present day. Perhaps my proposed study will take a step in that direction and encourage others to add to this field of research.

Specific Methodology

Two third grade and two fourth grade classes at two schools participated in this study. Students took a pre-test that with analysis through a modified Solomon Four Group design. Though students were not randomly assigned to the study, they were randomly assigned to their classes at the beginning of the school year. The two schools involved have very similar demographics for ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic status. It is not clear to me as to why two of the four classes completed both pretests and posttests and the other two completed only posttests. However there is some reference to the effect of the pretests, so perhaps the researcher was concerned that a pretest may in some way influence student achievement on the subsequent posttests.


This study provided some evidence that schoolyards can serve as an effective setting for teaching science. The researcher found evidence that student achievement was positively impacted when a 10-day unit of study was conducted outdoors as compared to the same unit taught indoors.


The study concludes that teaching science in the schoolyard can have a positive impact on student achievement. There was a significant gain on posttests that used reliable test items. However, there was no significant gain in a positive attitude toward outdoor learning. Any differences were very minor when comparing the initial survey to the final survey.

How does this research relate to yours?

This study aligns very closely with the study I have proposed in both content and methodology. Like this study, mine will be conducted at the elementary school level, and will measure the difference in student achievement in science when an environmental standard is taught outdoors instead of indoors. As the work with my chair continues, I am curious as to how closely aligned the two studies are and if my study is very nearly a replication of this one.

What are your impressions of the project?

This study was ground breaking at the time it was conducted, and remains significant today. As such, I am impressed by the researcher’s recognition of the need for this study. At the end of the study there are good suggestions for future research. It is surprising that little evidence can be found in related literature to suggest any of these ideas have been studied in the years since. In this study, only a few classrooms were involved, and that has impressed upon me that multiple small-scale studies regarding this topic would be more significant perhaps than one large scale study.


Cronin-Jones, L. (2000). The effectiveness of schoolyards as sites for elementary science  

   instruction.  School Science & Mathematics, 100, 203-212.

Louv, R. (2005).  Last child in the woods, Chapel Hill, N.C., Algonquin Books.



Monday, June 3, 2013

Blogging my research

During my doctoral program, I will use this blog to journal my research. Since my proposed dissertation topic centers around outdoor science, it is an appropriate way to tie previous professional work to this research. My classmates can visit, and others interested in the topic can as well.
In my opening video for my summer research course, I mentioned working with former First Lady Rosalynn Carter to establish a butterfly garden at her home as the start of the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail... a serie of gardens. Curriculum materials will follow this project. I have included here a photograph of President Carter looking on as I help Mrs. Carter release butterflies as the official opening of the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail, Apri 20, 2013.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bring some of the OUTDOORS in...

During my speaking engagements and conference presentations this fall, I have been talking about simple ways that teachers can bring a bit of the outdoors into classrooms -making science come to life for students. As the weather gets cooler at this time of year, it's often easier to bring something in rather than taking students outdoors. Either way, the learning can be enriched when students get their hands and eyes directly on something in or from nature. One of the lessons in Bringing Outdoor Science In focuses on making a model of a barrier island. Following the desvastation of Hurricane Sandy along the northeast coast of the U.S., this is certainly a timely lesson. As a child growing up along Georgia's Atlantic coast, I learned early the importance of barrier islands to the mainland. When we see the sand from an entire beachfront moved a couple of blocks inland, it is probably confirmation that development should have never been allowed so close to the beach. Helping students understand this concept using my lesson takes just a bit of sand, a plastic shoebox, and some natural materials like sticks or branches to simulate trees and vegetation. Add some water to model the ocean waves coming in and it doesn't take long to model how a barrier island can protect a larger body of land.
Whether it's sand & water that teachers use, or other outdoor items such as acorns, pine cones, rocks, or soil, bringing in a little bit of the outdoors can provide a memorable hands on, minds on experience for students. Check out the free chapter of Bringing Outdoor Science In on .
The free chapter, "Rocks & Soils" has the barrier island lesson and many more.
So while the weather is cooler, bring the outdoors in for kids...and on a sunny day, take science outdoors!