CDR undertakes K-12 Program Assessment

Network News Fall 2014, Vol. 27 No. 3

The Cedar Creek (CDR) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site is world-renowned for its ecological research program within the 25 member LTER Network. Its biological diversity, example of scientists doing applied research, and close proximity to the Twin Cities of Minnesota makes CDR an educational destination for teachers and students at urban, suburban, and rural schools who desire authentic ecology experiences. CDR’s most-requested ecology investigation is the Ecosystem Comparison Field Study, in which students gather biotic and abiotic data from prairie, forest, and marsh ecosystems to discern interactions between living and non-living factors, a basic ecological tenant.

A main goal of science education today is to prepare students to become scientifically literate citizens. At Cedar Creek, we want to understand how participation in our educational activities affects students’ scientific literacy. Toward that end, I  am conducting research this Fall on students’ knowledge before and after participation in the Ecosystem Comparison Field Study activity.

The purpose of this study is to investigate how a short-term field experience at a LTER site affects students’ scientific literacy as measured by changes in knowledge and conceptions about ecosystems, more specifically about the biotic and abiotic characteristics of marsh, forest, and prairie ecosystems, the interactions between these characteristics in each ecosystem, and how these different ecosystems compare and contrast. 

We hope that this study will provide us not only with theoretical knowledge about how students think about ecosystems, but also with practical knowledge about the impact of our program and about a means of assessment that might be adapted to other LTER sites.