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Examining How Science Teachers Learn to Observe in Field Geology

Summer 2023

Project Background

Scientific observation is an important skill that is ubiquitous across STEM disciplines. However, current science instruction often treats observation as a simple skill while overlooking its importance for developing science expertise. These challenges are compounded for secondary science teachers who are learning to improve their scientific observation skills while also teaching students.

This project aims to study how secondary science teachers learn how to engage in scientific observation. To achieve this goal, the project is designing and implementing a year-long professional course for secondary science teachers that forefronts scientific observation of geologic processes in the field. Phases 1 and 3 of the course will be online, and Phase 2 will be a field experience in Capitol Reef National Park in June 2023. During the field experience, the secondary science teachers and research team will travel throughout the park by van and foot to practice scientific observation while learning about relevant geologic processes. Qualitative and quantitative analysis of video, audio, and written work will examine how teachers learn to observe in ways that relate to their 1) conceptual knowledge systems, 2) social interactions with peers and the course instructors, and 3) cultural contexts and backgrounds while attending to equity issues in the course. Results will contribute to improved K-12 science instructional materials.

The research team is led by Dr. Lauren Barth-Cohen, and includes Drs. Lynne Zummo, Holly Godsey, and Sarah Braden (Utah State University), along with several undergraduate and graduate students.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (#2201764) (PIs: Lauren Barth-Cohen, Lynne Zummo,  Holly Godsey, and Sarah Braden).

Student Role

The student selected for this project will have the opportunity to learn a broad range of research methods and skills due to the variety of data collection and analysis techniques. Primarily, the student will assist the research team (faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students) in analyzing data from the professional course for secondary science teachers. This will involve, among other tasks, transcribing and coding video and audio data, and analyzing written work by identifying key ideas and categories. The data analysis will involve multiple perspectives while considering the teacher’s conceptual knowledge systems, social interactions, and cultural background within the context of equity and accessibility of the material. While coding the video, the student will work with existing coding schemes and collaborate with the team to develop more refined codes. Transcribing and coding will be done using specialized data analysis software that are designed for this purpose. No prior experience with this software is necessary. The student may potentially assist the research team in further data collection to enhance the project, along with reading and synthesizing the relevant research literature. Depending on availability and schedules, the student might join the research team in Capitol Reef National Park during the June 2023 field experience. No prior background in geology is needed.

Student Learning Outcomes and Benefits

Participating in this project will allow the student to access a broad scope of literature on education research, research techniques, and instructional skills. The student will experience how education research is conducted, how meaningful research questions are developed, and how this work connects back to classroom teaching. Specifically, the student will learn how to read STEM education research articles and be exposed to key foundational and contemporary ideas in STEM education. The student will gain familiarity with qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, including data collection, data processing, and data analysis. The student will learn about current instructional techniques in STEM, particularly in field settings, and the nuances of course design and implementation. Additionally, the student may be involved in writing research reports and will gain experience and skills in academic writing. This experience acts as a bridge to introduce the student to a wide range of education research endeavors using a variety of methodologies. The student will be able to use this work as a springboard for future career directions related to STEM teaching and education.

Lauren Barth-Cohen

Assistant Professor
Educational Psychology

My mentoring philosophy is to attend to the individual’s needs to support students in working towards their intellectual and career goals. I aim to create an inclusive, caring, and supportive environment where each student feels empowered to explore new avenues in STEM education.

During the summer, hands-on activities will consist of the following: twice weekly in-person meetings with the research team, including students and faculty; Ongoing practice with data analysis in work sessions; Reading of relevant background literature to become familiar with the larger intellectual field; and consistent feedback on ongoing data analysis and writing. We are seeking a motivated and independent student interested in STEM education and curious to explore STEM education research.

Dr. Barth-Cohen’s research focuses on student learning in science and she works to translate that research in ways that can be useful to K-12 teachers. She studies student learning of the often-difficult concepts in science that are foundational to the scientific enterprise and central to science education. In her research, she designs and implements learning environments aiming to scaffold such conceptual learning, video tapes the instruction, and then conducts qualitative video analysis on changes to learners conceptual understanding over time. Her approach to learning focuses on characterizing learners’ knowledge system over time, and she concentrate on contexts where they are engaged in a variety of knowledge building practices that are similar to the practices of professional science and central to reform-based science education efforts (e.g. developing and using scientific modeling, analyzing and interpreting data, and engaging in argument from evidence). One ongoing project focuses on undergraduate students in reformed-based physics that are engaged in sensemaking about the process of collecting and analyzing data (National Science Foundation DUE-IUSE, #1938721). Another project examines how learners come to generate scientific observations that can function as evidence in a field geology setting (National Science Foundation, EHR Core Research, #2201764).