Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Place-based pedagogy in the era of accountability: An action research study
by Saracino, Peter C., Ed.D., University of Rochester, 2010, 196; 3421835
Abstract (Summary)

Today's most common method of teaching biology—driven by calls for standardization and high-stakes testing—relies on a standards-based, de-contextualized approach to education. This results in "one size fits all" curriculums that ignore local contexts relevant to students' lives, discourage student engagement and ultimately work against a deep and lasting understanding of content. In contrast, place-based education—a pedagogical paradigm grounded in situated cognition and the progressive education tradition of John Dewey—utilizes the community as an integrating context for learning. It encourages the growth of school-community partnerships with an eye towards raising student achievement while also drawing students into the economic, political, social and ecological life of their communities. Such an approach seeks to provide students with learning experiences that are both academically significant and valuable to their communities.

This study explores how high school science teachers can capitalize on the rich affordances offered by a place-based approach despite the constraints imposed by a state-mandated curriculum and high-stakes testing. Using action research, I designed, implemented, evaluated and refined an intervention that grounded a portion of a Living Environment high school course I teach in a place-based experience. This experience served as a unique anchoring event to contextualize students' learning of other required core topics.

The overarching question framing this study is: How can science teachers capitalize on the rich affordances offered by a place-based approach despite the constraints imposed by a state-mandated curriculum and high-stakes testing? The following more specific questions were explored within the context of the intervention: (1) Which elements of the place-based paradigm could I effectively integrate into a Living Environment course? (2) In what ways would this integration impact students' interest? (3) In what ways would this integration impact students' perceived academic performance? (4) What are the costs of implementing this approach on the teacher?

Data sources included my teacher log, writings from students' reflective journals, student answers to survey questions and student responses to focus group interviews. Using qualitative research methods, I triangulated the data from these multiple sources in an attempt to address each of the research questions. This process included identifying key analytic and explanatory themes that guided my subsequent readings and interpretations of the data. The patterns that emerged guided the search for other connections and interrelationships and formed the basis of my final analysis.

This study demonstrates that I was able to successfully integrate selected elements of place-based education into my Living Environment course at least to some degree. As such, it confirms the feasibility of effectively incorporating key elements of the place-based paradigm into a high-stakes high school science course. My findings also support the literature's claim that embracing a place-based approach can pique students' interest in significant ways and therefore generate a higher level of student engagement that allows students to feel more confident about their learning. Findings also confirm literature articulating the beneficial use of artifacts while broadening such use to include ecology classes. Lastly, the study suggests the gains achieved in integrating a place-based approach more than outweigh the inevitable costs and challenges associated with its implementation.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Luehmann, April, Borasi, Raffaella
School: University of Rochester
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 71/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Ecology, Secondary education, Science education
Keywords: Experiential learning, High school, High stakes testing, Place-based education, Problem-based learning, Teaching to test
Publication Number: 3421835
ISBN: 978-1-124-22197-7
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