Action Research in Education: A look into Changing Currents
Action Research in education involves teachers identifying a question focused on their own teaching practice and then planning to take action with their students to help answer that question. Acting, observing, and reflecting on the outcome are the next steps before developing more questions…you can see the cyclical nature of this process in the diagram below:
The Toronto District School Board’s EcoSchools program has partnered with the University of Toronto Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) to initiate a Profession Learning Community (PLC) that supports Action Research projects with several teachers who have Environmental Education Specialist qualifications. That’s where I come in. My name is Catherine Kurucz and I’m a TDSB secondary teacher with Environmental Education Specialist qualifications who has joined this Action Research PLC. The questions I initially want to explore relate to EcoSpark’s Changing Currents program. I have been engaged with this program for more than a decade and I am curious about it’s impact on student engagement with environmental studies.
Diagram from: http://celt.ust.hk/teaching-resources/action-research
I set out to answer my questions and others that arose during the course of my action research project by volunteering with over a dozen Changing Currents studies in the Spring and Fall of 2018. I will be continuing to analyze student surveys and reflections and interviews in the upcoming months to look for patterns of engagement and learning. What I can share right now are my initial thoughts on what I saw and heard expressed from the students regarding their learning.
I saw elementary school students take a playful approach to their learning, willing and wanting to get their feet wet and their hands muddy if the situation called for it. On their free time they explored and learned about the flora and fauna of their chosen stream through play and inquiry. What would they find if they went out with nets? Could they get fish to swim between their legs? Were there crayfish under the rocks? Many of them expressed feelings of freedom such as “I can breathe outside of the classroom.” Not many recalled having other lessons outdoors, or having only very few opportunities for learning outside. One school had taken their students to the same site as their Spring Changing Currents study earlier in the school year but had not allowed the students the same hands-on experience. Most students expressed how much better the Changing Currents experience had been as they were allowed to collect the samples themselves and to have more hands-on examination of their samples. They expressed “seeing more and learning more”.
The secondary students for the most part had a different approach to learning outside, less adventurous and more social in nature, and I am currently continuing to look at the descriptions of their experiences to understand it more fully. Teacher Linda Ryan at the Peel District School Board, also with Environmental Education Specialist qualifications, was one of the teachers I worked with on those first Changing Currents studies. She has since joined the Action Research PLC. One of the things we were both curious about was what would happen if we gave the secondary students a deeper experience. To that end, we booked a more challenging program with EcoSpark to see how students who had previously attended a Changing Currents program would respond to the longer and fuller experience of a stream monitoring certification program. High school students can receive a certificate for their training through the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program offered in Ontario High Schools.
So on October 19, 30 students from Louise Arbour Secondary School in Brampton received their certification training for monitoring Benthic MacroInvertebrates in freshwater streams. The special thing about the students from Louise Arbour SS is that several of them volunteered to participate in the certification not because they were enrolled in a SHSM program, but because they had previously participated in Changing Currents and because of that experience had become personally interested in citizen science with their peers.
The concept of citizen science is that regular citizens who are not professional scientists participate in the creation of scientific data and knowledge. One of the participants expressed this concept when he later reflected: “The Terra cotta stream study was one of my favourite science hands-on activities because we actually followed a protocol like other scientists do. They take samples of water from different streams and check the quality to determine if it is clean or polluted.”
The students were so interested in this work that after their initial Changing Currents session 16 of them had expressed interest in volunteering to become certified on their own time outside of school. Another had told us that although he was not intending do pursue a career in environmental science, that he would always be personally interested in this work. Linda and I will continue our Action Research into this engagement of high school science students with citizen science projects like the one EcoSpark’s Changing Currents offers and keep you posted.
Catherine is an environmental consultant at EcoSpark. She is a science teacher with 20 years of teaching experience. She and her students have participated in EcoSpark's Changing Currents program since 2009. Caherine was also involved in the design and implementation of EcoSpark's Nature Academy program in 2013. With a passion for environmental education, Catherine continues to volunteer with EcoSpark's programs.