Investigations of the Wild: The Development of Students' Scientific Practice and Knowledge During Ecological Fieldwork
Forsythe, Michelle Elizabeth
For the past decade science education has increasingly advocated for student participation in the practice of science. However, current representations of scientific practice often under-represent and under-theorize the practices of field-based domains such as ecology. In addition, although ecology has gained increased precedence in K-12 science education, there is a need to better understand what might be productive approximations of practice for students studying field ecology. This dissertation consists of three papers that collectively investigate how to support student learning within the domain of field ecology. The first paper, Wild Designs: The practice of field ecology and its implications for K-12 science education, probes the nature of the practice of field ecology and the forms of learning environments that might potentially support students in this practice. This paper expands the discussion of scientific practice by synthesizing what research studies have uncovered about how ecologists construct knowledge in field settings. The findings highlight the primary practices of field ecologists and the ways in which the nature of field settings shape these practices. The second paper, Sampling in the Wild: How attention to variation supports the development of middle school students’ sampling practice, focuses specifically on how student encounters with variation during ecological fieldwork advance their sampling practice. The findings suggest three ways in which students’ attention to variation within the context of their ecological investigations supports their development of a more sophisticated practice of sampling. Finally the third paper, Disciplining the Wild: The co-development of students’ scientific knowledge and practice during ecological fieldwork, explores how students’ ecological knowledge and practice writ large develop during fieldwork. This paper reports on how case study of one team of four middle grade students changed their perception and their understanding of ecological relationships as well as the ways in which they investigated ecological questions while investigating a local creek. As a set, these papers contribute to current issues and trends in science education by detailing the opportunities that are made available through ecological fieldwork for student development of ecological knowledge and practice.