1. Eleanor Abrams
  2. Professor
  4. University of New Hampshire
  1. Sameer Honwad
  2. Assistant Professor
  4. University of New Hampshire
  1. Erica Jablonski
  2. Graduate Research Assistant
  4. University of New Hampshire
  1. Jason McKibben
  3. University of New Hampshire
  1. Michael Middleton
  2. Dean and Professor
  4. University of Massachusetts Boston

The SPIRALS program

NSF Awards: 1223703

2016 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 6-8

The SPIRALS (Supporting and Promoting Indigenous and Rural Adolescents’ Learning of Science) program used a highly contextualized learning model that engaged rural and indigenous students, grades 4-8, in investigations about their local sustainable practices. This program was designed to enhance the students’ knowledge and skills with sustainability, systems thinking and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) science practices. Students discovered that science knowledge exists in their everyday experiences and that scientific expertise resides within their community experts.

Students selected a community practice (e.g., fishing, logging, skiing, etc.) they think is sustainable. They used systems thinking to map the practice based upon four conditions for sustainability (reduction in energy, waste, natural resource use and fairness to all). The students’ system map framed what they knew about a practice which then helped them design an investigation using NGSS science practices to explore how sustainable their selected practice was. Students collected evidence from community experts, scientists, the natural world, and online sources. They created a post-investigation systems map as a way to more fully understand the evidence and created a presentation for their community.

The SPIRALS research investigated changes in students’ motivation, attitudes, and knowledge as a result of engaging with the SPIRALS curriculum. Pre/post surveys, student work (pre/post system maps), final presentations, and post interviews were gathered and analyzed. Student choice on what sustainable practices to investigate, interactions with community experts and community-based presentations about their sustainable enhanced students’ motivation and attitudes to engage in science. Using systems mapping as a learning heuristic and immersing the students in NGSS science practices resulted in increased knowledge about systems and sustainability.

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