Building science knowledge, identities, and interest using place-based learning to engage diverse urban undergraduate and high-school students
New York's glacial history and landforms were used as an anchoring phenomenon to engage a diverse, urban population of undergraduate and high school students through place-based learning activities. Leveraging the advantages of place-based education, we sought to make content accessible to students from a variety of cultural and educational backgrounds. Place-based learning focuses on local and regional environments and has been shown to boost student engagement, be more relevant to students, and has the potential to attract underrepresented groups to science.
To fully engage our students, high-needs public high school students from the Bronx and Brooklyn, and undergraduates at community college in Queens, we used strategies that provided equitable ways of learning and demonstrating knowledge. Our students in these contexts face similar challenges: learning remotely, limited science literacy, and/or newcomers acquiring English skills. We used NYC-based analogies to describe glacial landforms and processes and asked students to develop their own analogies to enhance meaning-making and student connection to content and processes. Additionally, multiple ways to demonstrate skills and understanding were included (e.g. sketching, storytelling). These practices validate and reflect the diversity, identities, and experiences of students, and communicate to students that they are valued and their varied experiences are an asset in learning. These lessons were developed for synchronous remote learning but could easily be adapted for an in-person classroom setting.
Our goals were to increase students' science knowledge by developing an awareness and understanding of the landforms that shape their local environment, stimulate students' interest in science, and develop students' science identities. Changes in science knowledge were measured using a formative assessment probe (Keeley, 2008), changes in students' interest were measured using the science interest survey (Lamb et al., 2012), and changes in science identity were measured using a science identity scale (Hazari et al., 2010).