Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Investigating engagement, thinking, and learning among culturally diverse, urban sixth graders experiencing an inquiry-based science curriculum, contextualized in the local environment
by Kelley, Sybil Schantz, Ph.D., Portland State University, 2009, 213; 3379155
Abstract (Summary)

This mixed-methods study combined pragmatism, sociocultural perspectives, and systems thinking concepts to investigate students' engagement, thinking, and learning in science in an urban, K-8 arts, science, and technology magnet school. A grant-funded school-university partnership supported the implementation of an inquiry-based science curriculum, contextualized in the local environment through field experiences. The researcher worked as co-teacher of 3 sixth-grade science classes and was deeply involved in the daily routines of the school.

The purposes of the study were to build a deeper understanding of the complex interactions that take place in an urban science classroom, including challenges related to implementing culturally-relevant instruction; and to offer insight into the role educational systems play in supporting teaching and learning. The central hypothesis was that connecting learning to meaningful experiences in the local environment can provide culturally accessible points of engagement from which to build science learning.

Descriptive measures provided an assessment of students' engagement in science activities, as well as their levels of thinking and learning throughout the school year. Combined with analyses of students' work files and focus group responses, these findings provided strong evidence of engagement attributable to the inquiry-based curriculum. In some instances, degree of engagement was found to be affected by student "reluctance" and "resistance," terms defined but needing further examination. A confounding result showed marked increases in thinking levels coupled with stasis or decrease in learning. Congruent with past studies, data indicated the presence of tension between the diverse cultures of students and the mainstream cultures of school and science.

Findings were synthesized with existing literature to generate the study's principal product, a grounded theory model representing the complex, interacting factors involved in teaching and learning. The model shows that to support learning and to overcome cultural tensions, there must be alignment among three main forces or "causal factors": students, teaching, and school climate. Conclusions emphasize system-level changes to support science learning, including individualized support for students in the form of differentiated instruction; focus on excellence in teaching, particularly through career-spanning professional support for teachers; and attention to identifying key leverage points for implementing effective change.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Becker, William G.
Commitee: Caskey, Micki, Miller-Jones, Dalton, Smith, Julie, Yeakley, Alan
School: Portland State University
Department: Environmental Science
School Location: United States -- Oregon
Source: DAI-A 70/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Science education, Environmental science
Keywords: Engagement, Environmental education, Learning, Multicultural education, Sixth-grade, Student engagement, Systems thinking, Urban education, Urban science education
Publication Number: 3379155
ISBN: 9781109459081
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