The impact of an informal science program on students' science knowledge and interest.




Zandstra, Anne Maria.

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In this sequential explanatory mixed methods study, quantitative and qualitative data were used to measure the impact of an informal science program on eleventh grade students’ science knowledge and interest. The local GEAR UP project has been working for six years with a cohort of students who were in eleventh and twelfth grade during the time of the study. Participants of this study were 122 eleventh grade students from this cohort. In the first, quantitative phase, state standardized test scores and a modified version of the Test of Science Related Attitudes (TOSRA) were used to measure participants’ science knowledge and interest respectively. The findings of the quantitative phase revealed a small but significant correlation between students’ attendance at the program elements (in total number of hours) and their science knowledge. In addition, small but significant correlations were found between (1) students’ attendance at the mathematics program element and their total interest scores, (2) their mathematics attendance and the career interest subscore, and (3) their total attendance and the normality of scientist subscore. The qualitative data in the second phase consisted of focus group interviews with fourteen of the participants. Results of this phase showed that the majority of the focus group participants agreed that they had learned something from the GEAR UP field trips and half of them thought the field trips had impacted their grades and test scores. Furthermore, a majority of the focus group participants concurred that their experiences in the field trips had increased their interest in science.
The purpose of the qualitative phase of this study was to provide explanations for the results of the quantitative phase. Explanations for the correlation between attendance and knowledge were that the field trips covered the same content as the formal science classes and that students learned more because they perceived the field trips as fun and hands-on. The correlations between attendance and interest were explained by the fact that students had the opportunity to see interesting aspects of science and interact with real scientists during the field trips.



Science education., Informal education., Science knowledge., Science interest.