Formal and informal collaborative projects: Engaging in industry with environmental awareness

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    2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. CCC 0036-8326/00/010095-19

    INFORMAL SCIENCELynn D. Dierking and John H. Falk, Section Editors

    Formal and Informal CollaborativeProjects: Engaging in Industrywith Environmental Awareness

    YEHUDIT J. DORIDepartment of Education in Technology and Science, Technion, Israel Institute ofTechnology, Haifa 32000, IsraelandCenter for Educational Computing Initiatives, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,Cambridge, MA, 02139-4307

    REVITAL T. TALUniversity of Michigan, School of Education, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109-1259

    Received 21 October 1997; revised 30 November 1998; accepted 8 December 1998

    ABSTRACT: A model of a mixed formalinformal sciencetechnologysociety (STS)curriculum that incorporates collaborative projects with case studies, eld trips, and formalclass sessions has been developed, implemented, and assessed. The contribution of thisstudy is threefold. One is a contribution to the growing body of knowledge on informaleducation. This is achieved through the establishment of constructivist relationships be-tween formal and informal learning activities. The second contribution is the developmentof an innovative, collaborative, project-based approach in environmental education, inwhich the community at large is involved. The third contribution concerns the develop-ment, implementation, and validation of an integrated formal/informal assessment systemthat is tailored to the unique learning environment. Assessment of students learning out-comesthe formal learningis done through case studies dealing with real-life problemsin the students neighborhood or region. Experts evaluate the collaborative projectstheinformal learningin an exhibition setting. The innovative approach of integrating andassessing projects with case studies was found to be effective and attractive to students,teachers, and parents. It is therefore recommended that collaborative projects be imple-mented in schools to enhance the value of out-of-school experiences. 2000 John Wiley& Sons, Inc. Sci Ed 84:95113, 2000.

    Correspondence to: Y. J. Dori; e-mail:




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    Top of testBase of textINTRODUCTION

    Revolutions in science and technology, environmental concerns on the part of the com-munity, and reform in science education during the last three decades have all contributedto the creation of the science technologysociety (STS) theme. STS creates a suitablelearning environment for community involvement in which students may experience col-laboration and group responsibility, as well as sharing successes and failures (Bybee,1993). STS issues promote system approach and interdisciplinarity (Zoller, 1993). It en-ables the implementation of a constructivist approach (Appleton & Asoko, 1996; Osborne,1996) and alleviates transformation between formal and informal learning. The vast ma-jority of curricular projects within STS deal with the natural environment. These projectshelp students in getting acquainted with nature and appreciating it. However, educationrelated to the industrial environment, which is an integral part of the contemporary humansetting, is much less developed and referenced (Posch, 1993; Solomon, 1993). Industrial-economics understanding and democratic, values-based action are two aspects of STS thatare seemingly remote from each other. To overcome this, STS issues, such as pollutionand power generation, link industry with environmental awareness and moral values. An-other option is to teach students the issue of sustainable development, which comprisesfour elements: people, environment, economics, and technology (Gamble & Weil, 1997;Neal, 1995).Theoretical and practical interdisciplinary projects constitute an ideal tool that conforms

    with the characteristics of environmental and STS education (McDonald & Czerniac,1994). Such projects, done in either an informal or formal setting, potentially contributetoward improving students awareness of environmental and societal problems. This, inturn, encourages students to take an active part in a judicious decision making process andto be involved in environmentally related community activities.According to Bybee (1993), the weight of classroom decisions falls most heavily on the

    individual science teacher. He claimed that, as we evolve toward an ecological society,the ultimate social goals, including interdependence, sustainable growth, conservation ofresources, population control, and global harmony, become identiable. These goals canonly be achieved if they are founded on solid scientic, ecological grounds. Educationthrough projects puts additional requirements on the teachers. These include managing thecomplexity of community involvement and investing considerable extra time in conductingand monitoring student activities.The target population of STS collaborative projects should not be conned to school

    students. Rather, it may encompass all ages and all walks of society. Due to the usual rigidframework of school topics, it is easier to introduce industrial issues with environmentalawareness as extracurricular activities in an informal setting rather than in a formal one.According to Dierking and Falk (1994), family learning involves both cognitive and af-fective domains. In such a setting, curiosity and attention play a key role in inuencinglearning and, when more naturalistic methodologies are utilized, researchers can betteranalyze the effect of learning on the learners knowledge and understanding.

    Informal EducationInformal education usually takes place in museums, zoos, nature centers, and eld trips

    (Dierking & Falk, 1994; Kubota & Olstad, 1991; Orion, 1993). The objectives of informalscience education are to encourage a change in the learning environment, to improve thelevel of interest in science, and to increase the rate of students success in science education.




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    Top of textBase of textStudents gain valuable experience in coping with real-world problems by striving to solve

    community-based problems of a scientic nature (Winston, 1995).According to Rudmann (1994), teachers, principals, and parents support informal learn-

    ing experience as a supplement to formal classroom learning because of its affective ben-ets with the assumption that cognitive gains are also achieved. In the informal setting,the involved parents facilitate knowledge acquisition by expanding the range of questionasking and answering activities with respect to home interaction, where they act as mereinformation providers (Korpan, Bisanz, Bisanz, Boehme, & Lynch, 1997). Boisvert andSlez (1994) argued that informal education has become an important mechanism forspreading out information to the public about new ideas and technology.Falk, Koran, and Dierking (1986) claimed that we should not assume that informal

    education and learning are less important than formal education because they deviate fromthe norm. Moreover, the educational community should not expect to measure informallearning with the same degree of precision and reliability as classroom learning. An in-formal learning environment should be accompanied by a suitable informal assessmentmethodology that is exible and adaptable to the less structured programs. Informal learn-ing cannot be expected to be measurable using the same methods and tools used in formalclassroom testing.Informal education, community involvement, and STS education are closely related.

    STS programs have provided a solid ground for involving the community, including par-ents, business, and industry sectors in school life, with the latter being interested in thestudents future involvement in industry (Staley, 1993). The initial motivation for com-munity involvement stemmed from Goodlad (1984), who claimed that meaningful edu-cational reforms must involve the community. In Israel, industry studies are encouragedthrough various bodies that conduct formal activities, such as tours and hands-on activitydays.The inspiration for the project described in this study emanated from environment-

    friendly industry activities in the nearby Tefen region. The issue presented in this studyinvolves the application of informal learning combined with formal STS learning througha collaborative community project. Because constructivist learning is based on real-worldexperience in an open, free learning environment, it is best performed through inquiry orprojects that foster autonomous learning (Driver & Leach, 1993; Klein & Merritt, 1994).Formal and informal education may be best viewed as a continuum rather than a dichotomy(Hofstein & Rosenfeld, 1996). Our project seems to belong somewhere in the middle ofthis continuum and contributes toward closing the gap between formal and informal ed-ucation.

    THE RESEARCH SETTINGKfar Vradim is a community village (population 3000) in the Tefen region, located in

    upper western Galilee in the north of Israel. Parents and the community in this school aredeeply involved in both curricular and extracurricular activities. The student population isrepresentative of community schools in Israel, which practice the autonomous approach.In these schools, the community inuences the content of the curriculum, as teachers andparents may develop local curricula and design enrichment material to be used in con-junction with the national curriculum. Appendix 1 presents the learning topics, main prin-ciples, and related eld trips of the school-based curriculum in grade 6, which has evolvedinto its present form over the last 12 years. Community action and environment and in-dustry issues are highly intertwined and relate to each other. This approach was advocated




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    Top of testBase of textby Ben-Peretz (1980), who claimed that, in modern times, no society can afford giving up

    community involvement and value-based education regarding resource preservation andenvironmental awareness.An important constituent of the school-based curriculum in Kfar Vradims elementary

    community school is the collaborative nal yearly project, done by groups of students,which is the focus of this research. The project expresses the community approach, whichseeks to combine the natural, industrial, and societal characteristics in the school curric-ulum. The project is carried out each year over approximately 3 months in the middle ofgrade 6. Examples of project subjects from previous years include designing a battery plantin the neighborhood, creating a plant for recycled paper products, and designing and man-ufacturing environment-friendly games. The projects are in conjunction with the nearbyhigh-technology Tefen Industrial Park, located within a natural environment.The school board has encouraged the project as part of the school-based curriculum due

    to its contribution to the relations between industry, the environment, fulllment of com-munity life, and the need to be involved in regional development. Field trips constitute acrucial part of the program (see Appendix 1) and they follow the natural systems as wellas the human cultural and economic systems.The formal learning is done in the classroom and includes case studies that illustrate

    the scientic background of real-world problems. Along the formal informal continuumlie both eld trips and group-prepared portfolios that document the product design, man-ufacturing, and promotion processes. The project and its outcomesthe industrial prod-uctis conducted after school hours. Small student groups, guided by volunteer parentsand experts, meet either at school or in their homes. This element is positioned at theinformal end of this continuum.

    Research ObjectivesThe research objectives were as follows:

    1. Developing a new model for formal and informal education through communitycollaborative projects.

    2. Establishing an assessment system that assesses both students formal and informallearning outcomes.

    3. Verifying the assessment system through its application to the collaborative projectsin Kfar Vradim.

    Population and MethodsThe research was carried out during a period of 3 years, 19941997. During 1995

    1996, the student population of 54 sixth graders was closely monitored. Twelve parents,four experts, and three teachers were also involved in the project and some were inter-viewed for this research.To assess the effect of the learning process, we used both qualitative and quantitative

    pre- and postcourse tools. The formal assessment tools included case studies (Dori, 1994;Herried 1994; Tal, Dori, & Lazarowitz, 1996) and the knowledge part of the ChildrensEnvironmental Attitude and Knowledge Scale (CHEAKS) questionnaire (Leeming,Dwyer, & Bracken, 1995). The formal assessment was done by the teachers at the indi-vidual level. The informal tools, which were applied at the group level, included expertevaluations, as well as student and parent open interviews.




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    TABLE 1Theme Selection Meetings

    Meeting No. Purpose Participants

    1 Brainstorming for themes Parents, teachers2 Brainstorming for themes Students, teachers3 Criteria devising and theme selection Parents, teachers, students4 Voting on the projects theme Parents, teachers, students

    THE COMMUNITY COLLABORATIVE PROJECTDeveloping a Model for Formal and Informal EducationTo achieve the rst objective of this research within the constraints just discussed, we

    adopted the collaborative project in an informal setting. The informal community part ofthe project was carried out on a voluntary basis during an 8-week period. It involved thecommunity in decision making and helping as experts by giving lectures and judging theproject products. This involvement was an important factor that contributed to the projectssuccess. The groups met several times a week in the evenings, and toward the end almoston a daily basis. During the rst stage, the participants engaged in theme selection andwere divided into working groups. Each group, which consisted of 1012 students and 2or 3 parents, selected the product to be designed and manufactured within the previouslyagreed-upon theme. Each group proposed alternatives and carried out market research toselect the best alternative. The results of this process, which took three to four meetings,included a title and a general product idea. The next major process, which took six to tenmeetings, involved product analysis and design, prototype construction, andmarket survey.The nal prototype was then subject to marketing by advertising the product in the town-ship before and during the exhibition.

    Theme Selection ProcessAt the theme selection stage, parents, students and teachers together chose a topic, which

    was related to...


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