Campus Life - Kamloops  

Research Q & A with Spencer Morran

Spencer Morran

Student researcher Spencer Morran learned that hands-on science camps and science centres are not just all about fun and games. They’re also an effective way to teach science.

Meet Spencer Morran, a Bachelor of Science grad who majored in animal biology. Spencer conducted independent research through TRU’s Undergraduate Research Experience Award Program (UREAP) on the value of hands-on learning for kids at a summer science camp.

TRU: Your project is titled, “Investigating the Effects of a Summer Science Camp on Elementary Aged Children’s Content Knowledge and Attitudes Towards Science”. Boil it down for us.

SM: Previous research has shown that hands-on learning as a way of teaching science to children is highly effective. However, some of the literature states that science education centres that promote hands-on learning are only for fun and children do not learn anything from going there. Based on my previous experience working at a science education centre, I did not think this was true. This inspired me to look deeper into hands-on learning in the context of a summer science camp.

During the summer of 2013, I tracked the progress of children attending a week-long science camp at a science education centre. I administered a questionnaire at the beginning and the end of the camp that asked questions relating to their attitudes towards science as well as their content knowledge of science based on some of the activities they would be participating in during the week. The activities that were asked about included structured hands-on labs they would be completing in a classroom style format, and independent hands-on activities they would be completing in a hands-on exhibit room. Asking questions about those two types of activities allowed me to compare the two methods of science teaching to determine if they are equally effective at fostering science learning. Asking questions in the form of a questionnaire allowed me to determine what effects attending this camp had on their attitudes towards science as well as their content knowledge. Video and audio recordings were also taken during both kinds of activities. These video recordings allowed me to look at engagement levels during the various activities and to identify specific instances of learning.

“I hope my research will reinforce the idea that hands-on learning is an effective way of teaching science.” —Spencer Morran

Overall, this study had positive results. The children attending the camp did show an increase in content knowledge after attending the camp. This supports my thoughts that participating in hands-on activities at a science education centre does promote learning. The results showed that the structured lab activities in the classroom setting were more effective at fostering science learning than the independent activities in the exhibit room. From my experience, this makes sense because the camp participants tend to be more focused when completing a structured lab than when they are working on self-directed activities in the exhibit room. However, I want to stress that this is in a camp setting and I don’t want to devalue self-directed activities at science education centres. I think these activities are great for learning, especially when people are there for the purpose of supporting learning with the self-directed activities.

As for the children’s attitudes towards science, attending the camp did not increase their attitudes towards science. This surprised me at first but after further analysis I found that the participants already had good attitudes about science before the camp, which may explain why a significant difference was not shown.

TRU: What attracted you to doing this research?

SM: After working at a science education centre during the summer of 2012, I became interested in the idea of hands-on learning being highly effective for promoting science learning. I knew I wanted to do an honours program which led me to assistant professor in education Dr. Carol Rees as my supervisor and it all just took off from there.

TRU: How has your UREAP grant helped you get into doing research?

SM: Without the UREAP grant, it would have been very difficult for me to do my data collection during the summer semester. Usually I would be working during the summer, but with the UREAP grant, I didn’t have to worry about this and could completely focus my efforts on my research.

TRU: Has your project led to a presentation or publishing opportunity?

SM: I presented a poster and an oral presentation at the TRU Undergraduate Research Conference. Carol and I also submitted an abstract to the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) Education Conference at UBC and were accepted to present a poster there this summer. Carol and I are eager to try to get this work published in a journal.

TRU: What have you learned from this experience?

SM: I’ve learned that research is full of surprises. Things don’t always go as planned and all you can do about that is work around the obstacles and get through it. This experience has also allowed me to find out what doing research is all about and has reinforced that choosing to go into a master’s program next year was the right choice for me.

TRU: Who in your field do you admire and why?

SM: Since I am in animal biology, I really admire David Attenborough. His educational segments about the world we live in are so fascinating and I love that he has devoted much of his life to bringing science into the public eye in an accessible way.

TRU: What impact do you hope your research will have?

SM: I hope my research will reinforce the idea that hands-on learning is an effective way of teaching science. I also hope it will show people that science education centres are both fun and a great place for learning.

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