ERIC Identifier: ED286756
Publication Date: 1987-00-00
Author: Lisowski, Marylin - Disinger, John F.
Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Cognitive Learning in the Environment: Secondary Students.
ERIC/SMEAC Environmental Education Digest No. 1, 1987.
Cognitive learning related to the environment has typically been
subsumed as a part of instruction in the more traditional areas of the secondary
school curriculum, in particular in science and/or social studies classes.
Because few secondary schools include discrete subjects in environmental areas
in their curricula, presentation of environmental concepts generally is
accomplished through use of the same instructional techniques as those employed
in the courses in which they are considered, generally focusing on
A unique feature of environmental education is its intimate identification
with outside-the-classroom phenomena. However, the typical pattern employed in
such "in-the-environment" learning as does exist is to concentrate on the
affective, frequently the motivational, aspects of outdoor education and field
instruction. Most of the research dealing with learning in the environment
centers on non-cognitive areas (Disinger, 1984).
Field instruction for cognitive purposes is not an innovation of this era.
Attempts to instruct in the field have been charted through the centuries, up to
and including the present. Socrates and Aristotle led their followers directly
to the natural environment for observation and discussion about nature;
expressions of similar efforts still are being evidenced.
Even though general sentiment is supportive of the value of learning in a
direct environmental setting, actual efforts at implementation of field
instructional programs have been limited. Mason (1980) identified a number of
factors contributing to limited instructional use of field activity, among them
lack of planning time, lack of resource people for assistance, failure of the
school to assume trip risk, lack of a satisfactory method of covering other
classes, restrictions placed on field work by school regulations, lack of
administrative leadership, support, and encouragement, lack of funding, limited
available transportation, too much "red tape," and excessive class size.
Disinger (1984) additionally suggested a lack of teacher commitment to the
concept of the field instruction--"it is 'easier' to teach in the classroom than
to plan and implement outside-the-four-walls initiatives."
Schellhammer (1935) investigated knowledge gains of two groups of high school
biology students. His study covered a period of one year. Experimental and
control groups were established, with the experimental group participating in a
field excursion. Posttests were given to both groups; knowledge gains were found
to be significant only with the experimental group. The groups were reversed
(control becoming experimental, and vice-versa), and a new unit of study was
taught following the same procedures. The new experimental group showed more
significant gains than did the new control group.
The impact of extended excursions was studied by Raths (1936) with students
who were taken to the coal fields of West Virginia on a ten-day trip. Students
who had participated in the trip were judged to be superior in their abilities
to evaluate tasks related to scientific inquiry, when compared to non-trip
Fraser (1939) worked with the same group of students as did Raths, but
focused on gains in information that trip-students had evidenced. He
distinguished knowledge gain from memorized information. Measurements of
students' abilities to generalize and apply principles learned were made. He
concluded that the greatest value of learning in the field was skill in
knowledge acquisition and application.
Atyeo (1939) conducted a study in which he compared the results obtained from
the use of an excursion technique with those of other teaching methods. He found
that with an increase in excursions there was an increase in investigating the
phenomena associated with the experience, and demonstrated that the excursion
technique was superior to class discussion for teaching material requiring
comparisons and knowledge of concrete objects.
When testing the usefulness of field trip guidebooks, outlines, instructonal
materials, and associated techniques, Evans (1958) found that classes that used
the planned field trip technique learned more, retained more, and did better on
tests than did classes not participating in field trips.
Testing the effectiveness of field trips in the teaching of college-level
botany classes, Kuhnen (1959) found that groups actively involved in field trips
showed some, but limited, superiority in knowledge gain over control groups
instructed in a laboratory setting.
STUDENTS OF VARYING ABILITIES
enz (1962) conducted an experimental evaluation of field trips for achieving
informational gains in an earth science unit. Four classes of ninth graders
(n=109 students) participated in the study. The experimental groups went on
excursions to sites of geologic interest, while the control groups remained in
the classroom and reviewed the content through slides. Based on comparisons of
pretest and posttest results, Benz concluded that superior students tend to
profit more from field trips than do students with average to less-than-average
ability, but that field trips may contribute to the understanding of scientific
principles for all students.
A comparison of two instructional methods--field instruction and
discussion--was undertaken in a study by Bennett (1963). A unit on ecology was
taught by both methods to separate groups of seventh graders. Bennett found no
significant gain from the experimental field treatment as compared to the
traditional classroom discussion method, but noted that the field experience
technique was as effective as the discussion technique.
The effectiveness of learning geology through field experiences was probed by
Glenn (1968), whose study involved a comparison of the field technique to the
use of color slides with classroom discussion. In none of the comparisons did
the field trip group score significantly higher than did the group taught with
Goldsbury (1969) made a similar comparison, examining the effects on
cognitive learning from the substitution of slide-tapes for an actual field
experience. Test results indicated that the vicarious experience afforded
through the slide-tape presentations was more effective than direct exposure to
field trip experiences. However, direct experiences in the field coupled with
exposure to slide-tapes in the classroom proved to be a more effective approach
than either, separately.
Significant increases in student test scores resulted from use of pre-trip
instructional materials, according to the results of a cognitive-gain study on a
museaum field trip experience for junior high school earth science students
(Gennaro, 1981). An experimental group demonstrated statistically significant
differences in gain scores as compared to a control group making the same field
trip, but without pre-trip instruction.
In research conducted by MacKenzie and White (1982), the effects of field
work on retention levels were examined among eighth and ninth graders in
Australia. Three groups of students were involved. The same general learning
program was employed in all treatments, but with different approaches to the
excursion phase; there was an active processing excursion group, a traditional
passive excursion group, and a group that did not have field work. Two tests
were given, one on achievement of unit objectives and the other on formation of
episodes and linking them with other knowledge items. Both tests were given
prior to formal instruction; posttests were given during the summer holidays,
just prior to the beginning of the new school year. Posttest results indicated
that the students who had field work performed better than did students who did
not have either field component of instruction. Retention was superior in the
group that participated in the active excursion program.
To evaluate the effects of field activities on student learning, Kern and
Carpenter (1986) conducted a study with two sections of a college laboratory
course in earth science. One section involved primarily classroom activities
using a laboratory manual, while field-oriented activities were employed in the
other. Comparisons of the performance of the two classes at the end of the term
revealed almost identical levels of lower-order learning (recall), but
higher-order skills were demonstrated to a greater degree by the field-oriented
section, indicating an enhanced ability to apply the information acquired.
UNDERSTANDING AND RETENTION
Designed to examine the nature of ideas that students hold about specific
scientific concepts and to investigate modes of instruction that would
effectively help them gain an accurate understanding of their world, Lisowski's
study (1987) focused on students' conceptions of ecological concepts and the
influence of field instruction strategies on their understanding and retention
of these concepts. An experiential seven-day field program served as the
learning strategy for three independent groups of secondary students. These
students responded to a specially designed cognitive instrument made up of
higher-order items prior to, during, and four weeks after the field program. All
groups exhibited significant posttest gains and showed evidence of retention of
the targeted concepts. Gains in scores in the major concept strands were
positively related to the instructional emphasis given to those areas. The
effectiveness of the field program was apparent, in that the specific concepts
emphasized were learned and retained.
In Wise and Okey's meta-analysis of instructional strategies (1983), one
category examined was presentation mode. This category included those means of
instruction where the setting was different from a traditional learning
environment; field instruction was a targeted mode of learning within this
category. Th mean effect size obtained for cognitive and other (attitudinal,
problem-solving) outcomes was .26, based on 103 studies. Thus, field instruction
was usually found to be more effective than traditional strategies of learning.
The relative sparsity of research literature dealing with cognitive learning
about the environment, in the environment, is an indication that little
cognitive instruction in secondary schools takes place in field settings.
However, those studies which have been reported indicate that field-based
instruction is a teaching technique worthy of additional, extensive rigorous
study by educational researchers. The research data reviewed indicate that there
are substantial achievement differences in the effectiveness of different
approaches to field-based instruction. Both teachers and investigators should
study successful approaches to improve their work.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Atyeo, H. THE EXCURSION AS A TEACHING TECHNIQUE. New York: Columbia
University Press, 1939.
Bennett, L. "A Study of the Comparison of Two Instructional Methods, the
Field Method and the Classroom Method Involving Content in Ecology for the
Seventh Grade." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Florida State University,
Benz, G. "An Experimental Evaluation of Field Trips for Achieving
Informational Gains in a Unit on Earth Science." SCIENCE EDUCATION 46 (1962):
Disinger, J.F. "Field Instruction in School Settings." ERIC/SMEAC
Environmental Education Digest No. 1, 1984.
Evans, H.G. "An Experiment in the Development and Use of Educational Field
Trips." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The University of Tennessee, 1958.
aser, J. OUTCOMES OF A STUDY EXCURSION. New York: Columbia University Press,
Gennaro, E.D. "The Effectiveness of Using Previsit Instructional Materials on
Learning for a Museum Field Trip Experience." JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE
TEACHING 18 (1981): 275-281.
Glenn, W.H. "The Effectiveness of Learning in Earth Science Geology Units
Through Field Trip Experiences: A Study of the Effects of Two Different Methods
of Presenting Field Trip Experiences on Pupil Ability to Make Observations of
and Form Hypotheses Regarding Selected Geologic Features." Unpublished doctoral
dissertation, New York University, 1968.
Goldsbury, J.W. "A Feasibility Study of Local Field Trips Taken Vicariously
Through Slide-Tapes." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State
Kern, E.; and J. Carpenter. "Effects of Field Activities on Student
Learning." JOURNAL OF GEOLOGICAL EDUCATION 34 (1986): 180-182.
Kuhnen, S.M. "The Effectiveness of Field Trips in the Teaching of General
Botany." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, New York University, 1959.
Lisowski, M. "The Effect of Field-Based Learning Experiences on Students'
Understanding of Selected Ecological Concepts." Unpublished doctoral
dissertation, The Ohio State University, 1987.
Mason, J.L. "Field Work in Earth Science Classes." SCHOOL SCIENCE AND
MATHEMATICS, 80 (1980): 317-322.
MacKenzie, A.A.; and R.T. White. "Fieldwork in Geography and Long Term Memory
Structures." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational
Research Association, Los Angeles, California, April 13-17, 1981. ED 201 541.
Raths, L. "Some Evaluations of the Trip." EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH BULLETIN 17
Schellhammer, F. "The Field Trip in Biology." SCHOOL SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS.
35 (1935): 170-173.
Wise, K.; and J. Okey. "A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Various Science
Teaching Strategies on Achievement." JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN SCIENCE TEACHING 20