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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to explore middle school students' perceptions of what factors facilitated their learning of science. Florida's Educational Reform Act of 1983 funded programs providing the state's precollege students with summer learning opportunities in science. mathematics, and computers. The programs were intended to encourage the development of creative approaches to the teaching of these disciplines. Under this program, between 50 and 60 high-achieving middle school students were in residence on the University of South Florida campus for 12 consecutive days of study in the World of Water (WOW) program. There were two sessions per summer involving a total of 572 participants. Eighi specially trained teachers were in residence with the students. Between 50 and 70 experts from the university, government. business, and industry interacted with the students each year in an innovative science/technology/society (STS) program. An assignment toward the close of the program asked students to reflect on their experiences in residence at the university and write an essay comparing learning in the WOW program to learning in their schools. Those essays were the base for this study. This was a qualitative study using a discursive approach to emergent design to generate grounded theory. Document review, participant observation, and open-ended interviews were used to gather and triangulate data in five phases. Some of the factors that middle school students perceived as helpful to learning science were (a) experiencing the situations about which they were learning; (b) having live presentations by professional experts; (c) doing hands-on activities: (d) being active learners; (e) using inductive reasoning to generate new knowledge; (f) exploring transdisciplinary approaches to problem solving; (g) having adult mentors; (h) interacting with peers and adults; (i) establishing networks; (j) having close personal friends who shared their interest in learning; (k) trusting the individuals in their learning environment, including adults and students; and (1) experiencing a sense of self-reliance. The preceding information was used to generate a series of hypotheses which were woven into a theoretical model. This model suggests that middle school science teacher education would be enhanced by helping prospective and in-service teachers develop and implement strategies that build trust, provide immersion in learning, and use inductive reasoning. This model is currently being used as the theoretical base to convert a traditional junior high school in the South to a middle school.