Science education benefits from Citizen Science

PLoS ONE

Abstract

Beyond subject matter learning, primary science teaching aims at encouraging positive attitudes toward, and lasting interest in, science. This study tested whether the learning and science commitment of 8- to 10-year old pupils was affected by extracurricular learning opportunities involving repeated interactions with free-living northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita; an endangered bird species) and professional researchers. To examine the project’s efficacy, pupils’ learning progress was monitored by repeated measures of knowledge (i) about northern bald ibises in specific, and (ii) of bird diversity in general. In addition, the children’s attitudes toward science were monitored and their dynamic mental models of northern bald ibis’ morphology and size were assessed from drawings. A total of 55 pupils from two schools were tested for eight months (before, during and after the experience). Control groups went through regular (curricular) science lessons with similar content and time investment. The extracurricular experience produced a clear learning progress with large effect sizes, which was particularly evident on a long timescale. In addition to subject matter knowledge, the project group pupils could name more bird species and expressed their views about the importance of scientific research for society in a higher proportion than control groups. Differences between schools suggest that project participation also changed the teacher’s own interest in northern bald ibises, which affected learning in the control group taught by the same teacher. Beyond the pupils’ language and reading skills, learning progress was also visible by scoring ibis-typical features in drawings; their mental models of relative size were not changed due to project participation, however. The results are discussed in reference to inducing and maintaining pupils’ attitude and interest in a topic. The study adds empirical evidence for the potentials of advancing primary science education e. g. by fostering the collaboration of schools with scientists.

Hirschenhauser, K., Frigerio, D., Leithinger, V., Schenkenfelder, I., & Neuböck-Hubinger, B. (2019). Primary pupils, science and a model bird species: Evidence for the efficacy of extracurricular science education. PLoS ONE, 14(7), e0220635. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0220635