Peer-mentoring and Long-Term Ecological Research.
Moore, John*,1, Jurin, Richard1, Rahm, Jrene2, 1 University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO, USA2 University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO
ABSTRACT- This case study explores how the principles of long-term ecological research when coupled with peer-mentoring can influence the attitudes towards STEM disciplines, achievement, and college going rates of first-generation and low income (FGLI) K-12 students from groups traditionally under-represented in STEM disciplines. Our work borrows from ecological systems theory, social constructivism, and neo-Piagetian thought, and uses quantitative and qualitative methods. We select FGLI rising-sophomores from 15 high schools along the Front Range of Colorado to participate in the program through graduation. The first two summers involve coursework in integrative mathematics and science topics, communication and presentation skills, data collection, analysis, and college preparation, while the final summer is spent working on a project of their design with a research mentor. All students participate in the data collection and analysis of a study of regeneration of an alpine forest following a fire, now in its tenth year. Students use data from previous years to prepare joint presentations involving students new and continuing students. We demonstrate significant increases in content knowledge and college going rates among participants. More importantly are the changes in student understanding and attitudes about STEM disciplines. The long-term nature and peer-mentoring aspects of the program help students develop an understanding of the culture of science, enhances science literacy development, endorses a practice of science broadly defined, and offers opportunities for participation over long periods of time in a safe learning environment owned by youth and accessible psychologically and culturally to them. Finally, what constitutes authentic science can neither be taught in the traditional didactic modes nor through simulations of scientists science in the classroom, but rather emerges from the learning process and because of the contextual nature of learning, the influence of the learning environment, and the roles that different experiences have on learning, the science of a scientist is different from the science of a student.
Key words: peer-mentoring, authentic science, under-represented groups
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