An investigation of the impact of culture and experience on reasoning about complex ecological phenomena among students from diverse backgrounds
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches and resources for use in a variety of settings. The project will conduct research designed to deepen our fundamental knowledge about culture, experience, and ecosystems cognition and to develop innovative practices and approaches to support learning about changing ecological systems and environmental decision making. Work on cultural differences in the production of complex systems knowledge is severely lacking. This gap in knowledge may contribute to the continued reproduction of inequities in science education. More broadly findings from this project will have clear implications for theories of cognitive development, especially those pertaining to how knowledge is shaped by culture and experience. Focusing on ecosystems may represent an opportunity to not only increase engagement and achievement in science among non-dominant communities and Native youth specifically, but also advance effective learning for all communities. The primary deliverables for the project are conference presentations and research publications. However, the project will also develop additional resources freely available to researchers, educators, and the general public. These will include summer curricular materials and teaching tools, professional development workshops, practitioner briefs about research findings that can be used in professional development workshops and shared share more broadly, and evaluation reports.
A deeper understanding of cultural influences on conceptions of the natural world can serve to advance the educational needs of children, including children from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Project research will include two interrelated series of studies designed to expand knowledge about human cognition of complex ecosystems and the affordances of informal STEM learning environments in developing and supporting the critical 21st century skill of ecological systems level reasoning. The first consists of a series of experiments focused on ecological cognition and the role of humans in nature. The second consists of design-based research interventions in informal settings, summer workshops for youth and the communities, focused on ecological systems level thinking and socio-environmental decision making. The project will recruit and engage both child and adult participants from two broad cultural communities, Native Americans and European Americans living in urban and suburban communities, in part because it affords a sharp test of human-nature relations. Sampling from two different urban communities will avoid simple Native-non-Native comparative binaries and to conduct Native-to-Native comparative analysis. Based on results from this, the project will result in: 1) foundational knowledge about human learning and reasoning and ecosystems and environmental decision making, 2) culturally responsive models of learning and practice about complex ecosystems for indoors and outdoors informal learning environments, and 3) insights about research-practice-community partnerships. One important objective of the research is to broaden participation and close opportunity gaps for under-represented groups in STEM fields broadly and more specifically for Indigenous people. Members of Indigenous communities, who provide strong role models for other aspiring scholars, will be involved as postdoctoral fellows, research assistants and graduate fellows.