Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 35 Number 2
January 1996

A COMPARISON OF INTEGRATED OUTDOOR EDUCATION ACTIVITIES AND TRADITIONAL SCIENCE LEARNING WITH AMERICAN INDIAN STUDENTS

Thomas T. Zwick and Kenneth W. Miller

This study examines the validity of outdoor-based versus classroom-based science education experiences for American Indian students. The primary focus of the study analyzed a series of hands-on outdoor education activities and compared this experimental group with traditional textbook and classroom science education. Data collection utilized the California Achievement Test 85 (CAT) and compared the American Indian students and non-native students in both the experimental and control groups. Findings indicate the American Indian students provided with the outdoorbased science curriculum scored significantly higher than those presented with traditional classroom science methods. Also, there was no significant difference between the American Indian students and the non-Indian students in the experimental group.

History of the Program

Science education in Hardin School District 17-H and 1 in Montana on the edge of the Crow Nation before the 1988-1989 school year, was a traditional program of classroom instruction. It was supported by a textbook base with few, if any, laboratory type activities. The program varied from teacher to teacher and school building to school building with teachers teaching isolated parts of the text or their own versions of science. No programs built upon each other and no sequencing of science concepts occurred within the programs other than the normal scope and sequence found in textbooks.

During the 1987-1988 school year, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks established a public access site to the Bighorn River near Hardin, Montana. A small group of professional educators approached the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks with the idea of leaving a large portion of this public land in an undisturbed state to be used as a site to establish an outdoor learning center for use by local schools. The preservation of this land as an excellent piece of undisturbed, riparian flood plain was agreed upon. A number of field trips were then designed by a small group of local teachers and college personnel. A number of teachers and schools within the district began to frequently use the area as a resource and a supplement to their classroom science teaching.

The Hardin School Districts initiated and funded a number of teacher inservice sessions designed to provide its teachers with additional science information so they could more advantageously utilize the site. These teachers formed a small group interested in developing an activity-based science program using the outdoor site as a medium to teach science. This concept was expanded and resulted in the development of a series of satellite sites near each elementary school in the district. Each of these satellite sites was a riparian flood plain ecosystem. The similarity of the sites allowed for the development of a series of activities that could be adapted for use at any of the sites.

In the 1989-1990 school year, the Hardin School Districts and Montana State University-Billings received the first of two Eisenhower Grants to develop the activity-based science curriculum. The activities developed under the grant were centered on the elementary level and were completed through the fifth grade. These activities were used in this study.

Development of the Activities

The Hardin School Districts 17-H and 1, along with Montana State University-Billings, was funded for two years by the Eisenhower Grant Program to develop a new activity-based science program. The program that was developed consisted of an initial 36 "hands-on," and largely outdoor-oriented activities. The teacher members of the group developing the activities began to use the activities as they were developed. Thus, the activities were screened, added to, subtracted from, and modified as they were produced over the two-year period. The activities are now being used district-wide. The activities were developed cooperatively by a team of Hardin teachers and administrators, community resource people and college personnel. The district teachers and administrators represented the various disciplines of the sciences, mathematics, language arts, art and the social sciences. The community resource people's backgrounds ranged from electricians, soil scientists, engineers, to agricultural experts. The college personnel represented the areas of "hard sciences," science education, educational psychology and educational research.

The goal of the planning team was to develop a science curriculum that was activity-based, integrated with other disciplines in science and educationally sound. The activities developed were to be factually correct, require the student to utilize the processes of science, develop critical thinking skills, be appropriate for student mental development at the appropriate grade levels, and be culturally acceptable' by American Indian students. The first step for the activity development team was to "get on the same level." This was accomplished through a series of inservice instructional sessions. The inservice sessions covered the topics of (1) science processes, (2) development of critical thinking skills, and (3) an understanding of children's mental developmental stages as applied to science education.

The Activities

The developed activities were designed to teach students basic concepts of science. Each activity was developed to require students to:

  1. Utilize the processes of science (collection of data, measuring, classifying, etc.).
  2. Analyze the data collected (critical thinking, processing data, interpretation of data).
  3. Apply the knowledge or insights gained through data analysis to solve problems or use as a basis for group discussion.
  4. Evaluate the meaning of the data collected and the validity of the method of using the data when applied to problem solving or in class discussions.
  5. Work in groups and to have input into group discussions concerning the activities.
  6. Make connections between science, society, art, and the language arts.

In addition to the requirements set above, the activities were developed for various grade levels based upon Piagetian theory pertaining to student mental and emotional development as related to the cognitive and affective domains. The activities were developed to specifically teach science using a direct experience with the natural surroundings and/or hands-on approach that incorporates American Indian culture into the activity as suggested by the research of Haukoos and LeBeau (1992). All activities were evaluated for the appropriate grade level by subjecting them to Fry's Readability Graph. Fry's Readability Graph was selected for determination of reading levels because it determines the reading level of the material, not the reading level of the student. Lastly, the activities were checked by a group of certified American Indian teachers employed by the Hardin School Districts to determine if the activities were culturally acceptable. Each of these certified teachers were members of the Crow tribe.

The student population of the Hardin districts is composed of 49% American Indian students. The schools in this area value culturally appropriate curricula. Research by Saville-Troike (1978) has shown that culture influences cognition, language use, motivation, attitudes, and the American Indian's ability to communicate. Swisher and Deyhle (1992) discuss the importance of visual learning for Indian children through "observation, discussion, manipulation, and experimentation" (p. 85). Swisher and Deyhle (1992) also suggest that American Indian children "approach tasks visually, seem to prefer to learn by careful observation preceding performance, and seem to learn in their natural settings experientially" (p. 86). Many traditional science activities present cultural conflicts. These conflicts do not, generally, revolve around the science concepts, but are based more upon the methods of presentation and the types of materials used in the activities. An example of this can be drawn from a frequently used activity that requires students to examine owl pellets to determine predator-prey relationships and food chains. Some American Indians would find this activity to be culturally offensive as the owl may be considered a bird that conveys bad omens. The use of owl pellets, in this case, may place the American Indian student in a culturally defensive position and thus may inhibit learning.

If the purpose is to teach all students predator-prey relationships, then it is not educationally sound to place students in a culturally defensive position. In the case of the owl pellets, the materials used clearly become an inhibitor to learning. The concept can be presented in a culturally acceptable way by simply using the pellets of some other bird of prey.

The Project

The Hardin and Montana State University-Billings project planning group involved 18 resource people from industry, city and county libraries, state and federal agencies; three college personnel from Montana State University-Billings; 17 teachers, 3 principals, and 4 supervisors/coordinators from the Hardin School Districts 17-H and 1. The 17 teachers and administrators consisted of 6 males and 11 females of which 14 were non-Indian and 3 were American Indian.

The project directly served 360 students. There were 180 females, 198 American Indian, and 3 Asians. Among this group, 82 were classified as gifted and talented, 191 as economically disadvantaged, 19 having Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and 53 as educationally handicapped. In addition, 165 were small city, urban students and 195 were students of rural areas.

Evaluation of the program was accomplished by selecting two fourth grade classes of similar characteristics and size from the population of fourth grades within the Hardin School Districts. Statistical analysis showed these classes to be representative of the total population of fourth graders in the Hardin Districts. The two classes selected for study were then divided into an experimental and a control class. The experimental class utilized the new activity based program, while the control class utilized the textbook based program that had been in place before the development of the activity based program.

The experimental class consisted of a total of 24 students, of which 10 were American Indian and 14 were non-Indian. The control class consisted of a total of 25 students, of which 12 were American Indian and 13 were non-Indian.

The California Achievement Test scores registered on the CAT 85 were selected as a means of statistically comparing science achievement between the experimental and the control classes as a function of curriculum design. The CAT 85 scores were selected over other standardized test scores because the CAT 85 scores in science are reported as a composite score and are also reported as individual scores in the science sub-disciplines of botany, zoology, ecology, chemistry, physical, and earth science. This breakdown of science scores allows for a comparison between the experimental and control classes on the basis of overall science achievement and for comparisons by science sub-disciplines. Evaluation by science sub-disciplines would yield information that would allow the District to evaluate the span of the activities across the sub-disciplines of science, thus assuring that the activities are adequately presenting the basic concepts and skills required of a comprehensive science program.

Statistical analysis of the CAT 85 scores was performed to determine whether significant differences exist between:

  1. The mean CAT 85 science scores of students in the experimental and control classes.
  2. The mean CAT 85 science sub-discipline scores of American Indian and non-Indian students within the experimental class.
  3. The CAT 85 science sub-discipline scores among the American Indian students within the experimental class.
  4. The mean CAT 85 science scores of the American Indian students in the experimental and control classes.
  5. The mean CAT 85 science scores of the non-Indian students in the experimental and control classes.

The t-test and ANOVA Test values, along with the statistical significance of each analysis, are indicated in table form. The data pertaining to each statistical test is based upon the mean composite CAT 85 science scores or upon the science sub-discipline scores.

Table 1
Comparison of the mean CAT 85 science scores of students in the experimental
and control classes

Control
Experimental  
T Values
 
Mean
Mean
Pooled Variance
DF
Computed
Critical(0.5)
66
73.4
0.26
78
28.46
1.67

The t-test results were significant not only at the 0.05 probability level, but also at the 0.005 level. The experimental class scored significantly higher on the CAT 85 science scores than did the control class.

A two way ANOVA test was used for this comparison as it is more stringent than the t-test comparison.

Table 2
Comparison of the mean CAT 85 science sub-discipline scores of American
Indian and non-Indian students in the experimental class

Source of Variation
Sum of Squares DF
Estimate of Variance
F
p .05
Within
16.573.93
132
125.56
Computed
Critical(0.5)
Between
16.731.65
1
16.731.65
.008
3.94

Results of the two way ANOVA tests show that no significant difference in science sub-discipline scores exists between the American Indian and non-Indian students within the experimental class.

A one way ANOVA statistic was used to compare the science sub-discipline scores of the American Indian students within the experimental class.

Table 3
Comparison of the mean CAT 85 science sub-discipline scores among the
American Indian students within the experimental class

Source of Variation
Sum of Squares DF
Estimate of Variance
F
p .05
Among
322.14
5
125.56
 
Between
52.057.4
54
964.03
.07
2.4

Results of the one way ANOVA test show no significant difference in the CAT 85 science sub-discipline scores by American Indian students within the experimental class.

The results of the t-test show that a significant difference exists between the mean CAT 85 scores of the American Indian students in the experimental and control classes. The American Indian students in the experimental class scored significantly higher than those in the control class.

Table 4
Comparison of the mean CAT 85 science scores between American Indian
students in the experimental and control classes

Control
Experimental
T Values
.01
Mean
Mean
Pooled Variance
DF
Computed
Critical
53.42

61.6
0.01
20
818
2.845

Table 5
Comparison of the mean CAT 85 science scores of the non-Indian students in the experimental and control classes

Control
Experimental
T Values
.01
Mean
Mean
Pooled Variance
DF
Computed
Critical
80
83
8.49
25
.35
2.06

The results of the t-test comparison show that no significant difference exists between the mean CAT 85 science scores of the non-Indian students in the experimental and control classes. The 0.05 probability level was accepted as a level of significance.

Interpretation of Statistical Findings

The statistical t-test of the mean CAT 85 science scores between the experimental and control classes show significantly greater gains by the students in the experimental class. This indicates that the experimental curriculum composed of outdoor "hands on" group oriented activities contributed more toward student cognitive science learning than did the more traditional textbook-based curriculum with few or no activities. The activities developed by the districts were more conducive to cognitive science development over the two year period of use. Ovando (1992) suggests that "new math and science skills are most effectively learned in the student's native language" (p. 230). While instruction in this project was not in the native language, there were native bilingual teachers presenting in the project. However, the nature of the activities emphasized relevant context embedded strategies. As expressed by Ovando, "the more context-embedded the presentation (for example, observations of a thermometer's response to hot and cold), the more likely that Limited-English Proficiency students can master the content even if presented in English" (p. 230).

The comparison of the mean CAT 85 science scores between the non-Indian students in the experimental and control classes showed no significant difference. This indicates that the non-Indian students learn or are taught equally well in either of the learning environments.

The comparison of the CAT 85 science sub-discipline scores between American Indian and non-Indian students within the experimental class showed no significant difference. This comparison indicates that the American Indian and non-Indian students, in the experimental class, performed equally well over all the science sub-disciplines. It also indicates that the American Indian and the non-Indian performed equally well in cognitive science understanding as a result of using the developed science activities.

The statistical comparison of the American Indian students within the experimental class to the CAT 85 science sub-discipline scores showed no significant difference. This indicates that the American Indian students in the experimental class performed equally well in all the science sub-disciplines. This comparison was important as a means of determining whether the developed activities were culturally relevant and that none of the activities were inhibitors to learning on that basis. The results of this statistical test show that the activities and the materials that were developed and used were culturally relevant to the American Indian students within the experimental class.

The statistical comparison of the mean CAT 85 science scores between the American Indian students in the experimental and control classes showed a significant difference. The American Indian students in the experimental class scored significantly higher than did the American Indian students in the control class on the CAT 85 test.

Conclusions

The students in the experimental class had greater gains in the CAT 85 science scores than did the students in the control class. The only difference that existed between the two classes was the science curriculum used. One can therefore make a valid conclusion that the difference in the CAT 85 science scores between the two classes can be attributed to the use of the newly developed, activity based science program.

No significant difference exists in the mean CAT 85 science scores between the non-Indian students in the experimental and control classes. Also, no significant difference was found in the mean CAT 85 science scores between the American Indian and non-Indian students within the experimental class. A significant difference does, however, exist in the mean CAT 85 science scores between the American Indians in the experimental and control classes. The results of all three tests imply that it was the greater gain in mean CAT 85 science scores by the American Indian students in the experimental class that resulted in the significant difference between the experimental and control classes. One can therefore conclude that the activity approach to teaching of basic science concepts (as measured by the CAT 85 test) is superior to the traditional textbook approach for American Indian students. The data also suggest that the activity approach to teaching science at the K to middle school level, as developed by the Hardin Districts, provides a more acceptable learning environment for the American Indian students.

There was no decline in scores of non-Indian students. The results indicated this activity-centered approach does not impair learning of non-Indian students.

The effect of creating a better environment for the learning of science concepts by American Indian students is extremely important for the Hardin Districts. Previous studies in the Hardin Districts show few American Indian students enroll in chemistry, physics, and advanced biology.

Current studies by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) show a very large need for minority scientists on the regional, national and international levels of employment. The same studies indicate a lack of minority students in high school and college science classes. Could this be a reflection of past and present methodologies that do not provide an appropriate learning environment for American Indian and other minority students? The newly developed activity-oriented science program in the Hardin Districts may be the link that generates an interest in science in American Indian students and provides them with a measurable degree of success in the learning of cognitive science concepts.

The activities developed for use in the Hardin Districts, being "hands on" activities, are performed in groups where much discussion within and between groups takes place. Students are thus taught to respect, value, and critically evaluate the opinions of others, as well as their own opinions. The activities require students to use various methods in the processing of data collected and to integrate and apply the science concepts learned to the fields of social sciences, art, language arts, and mathematics. The statistical comparisons made in this study indicate that the integration of science concepts in the activities increases the student's learning and understanding of cognitive science concepts. The activities developed in this study may be applicable to other American Indian people with minor revisions.

The Hardin School Districts have, by using the new activities developed, changed their direction in the teaching of science at the elementary to middle school levels. The directional change is a change from a textbook-dominated curriculum with few or no activities, to an activity oriented curriculum in which textbooks are supplemental. The Hardin School Districts should continue to develop more science activities and should continue to implement this new program of activity-oriented science.

Suggestions for Further Study

This study indicates that the activity based curriculum provides a more conducive medium to cognitive science learning for American Indian students than the traditional textbook-oriented classroom environment. This also raises a number of questions concerning how American Indian students mentally integrate and assimilate science concepts and what may be the most appropriate methods of teaching science to American Indian students. One has to ask the following questions:

  1. What is it about the developed activities that allows for a greater cognitive gain in science concepts by American Indian students?
  2. Is group learning the most appropriate methodology by which to teach American Indian students science concepts?
  3. Do outdoor-oriented science activities have a greater appeal to American Indian students than indoor based classroom science activities?
  4. Do outdoor-oriented science activities provide a more familiar base from which to learn science concepts than do indoor classroom oriented activities?
  5. Is an application and integration approach a more appropriate method for teaching science concepts to the American Indian student?
  6. Why is it that non-Indian students do equally well in both situations?

To answer these questions, further study must take place within American Indian communities. Observations of how and what methodologies of teaching are employed by American Indian parents and tribal groups in teaching their children such things as customs, relationships, and cultural dances, need to be explored. When the answers to these questions are known, and the use of these methodologies are integrated with present teaching methodologies and curriculum, schools may be able to develop a more appropriate learning environment for American Indian students, in which they can gain a better understanding of science concepts.

Thomas T. Zwick is a geology, Earth science education professor at Montana State University-Billings. He serves as a school board member for Hardin School Districts and also coaches at the high school level in Hardin, Montana. Tom is active in promoting experience-based science throughout the region.

Kenneth W. Miller is an assistant professor at Montana State UniversityBillings. He has served as a classroom science teacher and curriculum developer for 15 years prior to his appointment to the graduate faculty at MSU-Billings. Ken is involved with two state-wide grants in mathematics and science.

References

Haukoos, G., & LeBeau, D. (1992). Inservice activity that emphasizes the importance of the culture in teaching school science. Journal of American Indian Education, 32(1), 1-11.

Ovando, C. (1992). Science. In J. Reyhner (Ed.), Teaching American Indian Students (p. 230). University of Oklahoma Press.

Roscoe, J. (1975). Fundamental Research Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences (2nd ed.). Holt, Reinhart and Winston, Inc.

Saville-Troike, M. (1978). A Guide to Culture in the Classroom. Rosslyn, VA: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.

Senter, R. (1969). Analysis of Data; Introductory Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences. Scott, Foresman and Company.

Swisher, K., & Deyhle, D. (1992). Adapting instruction to culture. In J. Reyhner (Ed.), Teaching American Indian Students (pp. 81-95). University of Oklahoma Press.


 
 
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