Hazards-based outreach for middle school students

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Monday, 3 February 2014
Hall C3 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Kathleen Sherman-Morris, Mississippi State Univ., Mississippi State, MS; and J. Carroll, R. Clary, M. E. Brown, K. S. McNeal, and J. Diaz-Ramirez

As part of a multi-year effort to enhance diversity in the geosciences, two activities were held for middle school students: an activity day and a summer camp. Under-representation of minorities in the Geosciences occurs progressively with each level of education. Several factors act to keep members of underrepresented groups away from the geosciences including lack of interest, lack of knowledge of the field and lower perceived science efficacy. Research also indicates that students begin to identify with certain careers in adolescence and that positive experiences with a career in early adolescence can lead to the choice to enter that field later in life. Based on past research, the camp and activity days had the following objectives: 1. To expose middle school students to a college campus and laboratories. 2. To increase students' knowledge of Geosciences careers and the path needed to obtain them. 3. To increase student interest in Geosciences through engaging lessons in the classroom and fun hands-on activities at MSU. 4. To expose these students to individuals with whom they can relate who are currently enrolled in majors such as geosciences or civil and environmental engineering that can lead to careers in the geosciences.

The activity day was attended by the 8th grade class at a local attendance center. This activity exposed the 8th grade class to engineering facilities, the climatology lab, and the geology museum. While on campus, the students dug for fossils in a campus outcrop of Prairie Bluff Chalk, conducted hydrology, soil erosion, hydraulic and water quality analysis in the Civil and Environmental Engineering laboratories, made a weather forecast and delivered the forecast on the green-screen, and launched a weather balloon.

The students who attended the activity day were very favorable about the Geosciences and their experiences at the activity day. Due to time constraints, only a post-test was administered. Overall, the results indicated students enjoyed the activity day, and expressed interest in the Geosciences and related careers. Six of the eleven positively worded questions produced scores above 4 on a 5-point scale. Similarly, the two negatively worded questions produced scores between 1 and 2. Question 2, the statement “People like me usually do not do well in the Geosciences,” produced the lowest absolute response scores with a Mean of 2.74. It is not clear what meaning the students took from the question and if having a more diverse group of college students would have made any difference in the scores. It is also possible students did not know how to interpret the negative wording in combination with the “people like me” phrase.

The most students (11/27) mentioned digging for fossils as their favorite activity, followed by launching the weather balloon (9/27). Eight students mentioned the water quality or erosion activities as the most important thing they learned. In support of the project's goals, one student also reported that the most important thing she learned about the geosciences was that “That it is not that boring, and it's actually really interesting.” Another said [geoscience] “isn't all about hard math to do all of it.” The summer camp was attended by 10 students ages 11-13. The theme of the camp was "earth hazards.” During the camp, the students did many of the same activities as during the activity day. Additionally, they participated in hands-on activities including building a Popsicle structure to test in a simulated earthquake, cleaning up an 'oil spill,' examining the influence of coastline shape on beach erosion, a geocaching scavenger hunt, a presentation by a tornado chaser, and labs to demonstrate the process of convection, air pressure and soil composition. Campers also learned about lightning using a light bulb and a Van de Graaff generator, viewed the sun through a telescope with protective filter, built a dry-ice tornado, and took a field trip to observe how soil type varies with elevation and its impact on farming and erosion.

Feedback sessions were held each day at lunchtime by the research associate. The research associate also attended most of the camp activities. Based on these opportunities for evaluation, the students were favorable toward all sessions that included tactile learning or active student participation. One student commented, “I like doing, rather than sitting. I learn by doing.” Another reported the activities “where we actually do the experiment helps us learn.” The students also appeared more interested when the sessions included age-appropriate explanations of the material; lively interaction and positive reinforcement by the presenter; energetic and confident presenters; and timely stretch/bathroom breaks. Computer issues, PowerPoint presentations, language and illustrations that were above the grade level of the students, switching topics quickly and multiple outside/walking activities together led to lower focus and interest. Some of the students expressed a desire to try some of the activities at home, or to describe them to their teachers for classroom use. The geocaching exercise was well-liked, though all felt it was too much walking. All of the students reported wanting to come back to the camp the following year. Responses to pre- and post-test questions will be described further in the presentation.