Changing Perceptions of Scientific Research Through Outdoor Learning Experiences

Sophia Troeh, Gonzaga University, Biology, Spokane, United States
In the interest of increasing diversity in science related fields, it is worth investigating the many ways scientific careers are inspired. Children ages 5-14 enrolled in a weeklong summer camp at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve (WNERR) participated in this exploratory research to investigate the short-term effect of the camp on attitudes toward scientific research and careers in science. This camp was designed to introduce children to scientific practices at a research reserve by interacting with scientists and research equipment throughout the week. Using a survey method, children were grouped by age and given a pre-survey at the beginning of the week and a post-survey at the end with the same questions. For youth ages 5-7, a 7-question survey with answer options “yes”, “maybe” and “no” was used. For youth ages 8 and higher, a 12-question survey using a Likert scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” was used. Both survey types had two additional free-response questions. Questions were grouped into four categories: outdoor enjoyment, science interest, science confidence, and interest in science careers. Responses were grouped into three categories: ages 6-7, 8-11, and 12 and up. Microsoft Excel was used to find changes in answers and overall trends (n=24). After camp, all campers stated they enjoyed being in and learning about nature. All age groups showed an overall increase in confidence and interest in science. While campers ages 8-11 showed the largest increase in science confidence, campers ages 12 and up showed the least change in response. This supports the importance of early exposure to the outdoors and positive views on science. These results suggest that incorporating research and interactions with scientists in an outdoor educational setting is an effective way to increase youth enjoyment and confidence in science. Future research includes using a larger sample size and finding changes over a longer amount of time.