Session: Vital Connections in Ecology: Mentoring, Education, and Training
Bridging cognitive development and ecology: How interdisciplinary collaborations can simultaneously benefit basic research and science education best practices
Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Link To Share This Presentation: https://cdmcd.co/j9ajma
Sarah States, Research and Science Education, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh, PA, Catarina Vales and Anna Fisher, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, Heather Shannon and Jennifer Torrance, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Pittsburgh, PA
Research and Science Education, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Background/Question/Methods Environmental educators seek to broaden children’s ecological knowledge while simultaneously having a positive impact on their development; however, there is very little information on best practices for non-academic settings, which limits the potential impact of science education initiatives. Since 2016, Phipps Conservatory’s Science Education department and Carnegie Mellon University’s Cognitive Development lab have engaged in a research-practice collaboration, which provides real-life settings for psychology researchers and creates an opportunity to evaluate and refine science enrichment programs for children. Such collaborations can address multiple challenges: 1) developmental researchers have few opportunities for research in authentic learning environments, 2) informal educators often have limited resources to quantify their program’s impact, and 3) basic research is not always easy to translate into education best practices. This interdisciplinary partnership has sought to test various components of children’s learning, focusing on how information is structured, to examine which factors lead to better learning outcomes and knowledge comprehension. Results/Conclusions In 2017 and 2018, results indicated that four- to six-year olds increased their knowledge of “bug” and “plant” categories during weeklong environmental summer camps at Phipps. In 2020, Phipps moved summer camps online due to COVID-19, and partnered with CMU to examine best practices for science learning in a virtual setting. By embedding an experimental manipulation in virtual program delivery, this study compared two ways of structuring how information was presented: by having daily activities with the same versus different biological organisms close in time. While prior laboratory work suggested that these two ways of structuring the camp activities should lead to differences in learning, this was the first study to test this best practice in a real-life setting. Results also point to comparable learning gains in children’s knowledge of “bug” and “plant” categories from in-person and remote learning formats. Biological classification is often included in educational standards at the elementary school level; thus, our results suggest that summer enrichment programs can be critical for building knowledge that will be recruited in academic settings. These studies in authentic learning environments allow researchers to test theories and develop new research questions, while working toward Phipps’ and CMU’s shared goal of using enrichment programs to lower opportunity gaps in education. By finding mutually beneficial partnerships, researchers and educators can advance shared goals that benefit science education outcomes.