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A Partnership Approach to Improving Student Attitudes About Sharks and Scientists

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Abstract

This article describes the methods and impact of a student–teacher–scientist research partnership on student attitudes. The partnership objective was to teach students about the diverse roles of sharks in the marine environment while personally connecting students with scientific study. Students (N = 229) participated in lessons about shark biology and helped the partnering scientist design experimental protocols and analyze data. A self-selected subset of students also volunteered (n = 82) for a field component working with live hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewinii). Student surveys before and after the partnership suggested that negative attitudes about sharks are due largely to lack of exposure, and direct attention to students' stereotypes about sharks resulted in significant attitude improvement. Change in students' attitudes toward scientists, however, was minimal. Students' negative views of scientists did decline significantly, but their overall views of scientists were relatively positive to begin with. Also of interest was the students' unremitting association of scientists with specialized equipment and the students' lack of personal connection to scientific ways of examining the world, suggesting that partnerships may be more effective at personally connecting students with scientific process if they explicitly incorporate activities designed to improve students' view of themselves as scientists.

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