Benton Works to Understand What Students Retain From Outdoor School
Science scores rise for fifth-graders taking more field tripsThursday, November 03, 2011
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – In the woods of the Hobbs State Park Conservation Area, five classes of fifth-grade science students from Monitor Elementary School in Springdale, are learning science the best way possible: hands on.
The idea started with Monitor Elementary School principal, Maribel Childress, who noticed low science scores for the fifth grade class. In an effort improve the scores, the students visited the park once a month for six months, and participated in experiences built around the curriculum. Jay Schneider, assistant park superintendent at Hobbs State Park, contacted Gregory Benton, an assistant professor of recreation and sport management at the University of Arkansas, to be a part of the program.
Benton jumped at the opportunity.
“Jay told me about this. As soon as I found out about it, I contacted IRB here at the university, and arranged to get permission to do a research study about this field trip series. That’s when I was brought in this,” Benton said.
Benton’s job was to find out what the students retained from their experiences. To do so, he interviewed them during the bus rides to and from the state park. He asked questions about what they remembered from the previous trip’s activities: what they did, whether they could describe it, and what they liked least and most about it. He asked what they had been studying in school recently and what they were looking forward to seeing and doing on that day’s trip. On the way back to the school, Benton asked the students about what they had done, what they remembered, and what they liked and disliked. The school faculty and the staff at Hobbs State Park were also interviewed about the goals and expectations of the program. They were also interviewed after all of the field trips concluded, and asked their views on how it went and what could be done to improve it.
Each field trip, led by interpreters Rachel Diersen and Steve Chyrchel, consisted of three different activities, some indoors and others outside. The first few visits to the park emphasized the warm and cold-blooded animals as well as fossils. The students touched the pelts of warm-blooded animals and learned about the different requirements for the animals, such as habitat, food and shelter. The cold-blooded animal session taught the students about reptiles and amphibians, and allowed them to touch the creatures many had only seen in pictures. During the fossil trip, the students learned about dinosaurs, rock layers and were introduced to geology.
The next visits taught the students about the different types of minerals and rocks and the rock cycle. Using hot wax, play dough and paper plates, the students made their own rock cycle and presented it with help of Chyrchel to the rest of the class. The igneous rocks were represented by the hot wax, the sedimentary were represented by play dough and plastic fossils and the metamorphic rocks were represented by mixing three different colors of play dough together. With their rock cycles complete, the students were ready to present. Benton noted that the first few students were nervous but as the class watched, the nerves went away and some students even presented twice. After the geology lessons, students were introduced to weathering and erosion processes.
The final trips to the park covered astronomy and bird migration patterns. The last event was for International Migratory Bird Day: the science classes made presentations to the third graders at Monitor Elementary. The top five students from each class were then invited to Hobbs to give their presentation to park visitors the following Saturday.
“So these fifth graders have had science field trips, and now they’re going to turn around and become teachers,” Benton said. “It was one of those things that probably didn’t affect their science score directly but there’s a much bigger picture here. You want kids to have a context for their learning and to get excited about science.”
Another opportunity for the students to get excited about science occurred during the first trip. The students “adopted” a tree, which they looked at each time they went to the park. They saw how the trees changed from fall to winter and into spring. They took rubbings of the bark, saw bugs and other creatures on their trees, and observed the effects of a prescribed burn that happened not far from the trees.
The standardized tests at Monitor Elementary did in fact show an improvement in science scores for the students who attended the seven field trips, in comparison to the previous year’s classes that only had one field trip.
The results and factors causing the increase are still being analyzed to determine what activities were most and least effective in the students’ learning and retaining the knowledge. The students’ experiences and the results their responses will help shape the next generation of trips.
Benton’s study will be presented at the National Association of Interpreters Conference in St. Paul, Minn., Nov. 8-12.
Gregory Benton, assistant professor, recreation
College of Education and Health Professions
William T. Bryan, intern
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