Field research and motivation : experiential learning in the Parker River Estuary
Levitt, Joseph Patrick
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This action research project examined the initial effects of an experiential learning intervention on students by instituting a long-term salt marsh research project at a New England private school. The field element of the research project included identification of salt marsh vegetation and measurement of soil salinity along three transects. Two first year high school biology classes were tested for student motivation towards learning biology, achievement in the relevant ecology unit and overall perception of the environment through pre- and post-intervention attitudinal surveys, summative evaluations, short answer essays, and teacher notes. The treatment group (N=9) studied the salt marsh ecology curriculum over a one month period and participated in two field days in the marsh while the non-treatment group (N=15) was exposed to the curriculum in the classroom only. It was discovered that treatment students had increased motivation toward learning biology. Achievement and perspective on environmental preservation remained fairly unchanged regardless of participation in the experiential research intervention. These factors together show that while experiential field work does not have significantly better results than standard ecology curriculum, it certainly was shown to be just as good as traditional classroom practices. When the geographic proximity and local significance of salt marsh preservation was considered, there was a strong argument that outdoor classroom activities in the marsh were worth pursuing. At the very least they were just as worthy as typical classroom based lessons and therefore should be considered as a worthwhile endeavor.