Graduate students' motivation to teach plant sciences to K-12 audiences

Melissa Leiden Welsh, Purdue University


Graduate students' motivation to share their knowledge and research with K-12 audiences as future scientists is informed by their beliefs and perceived value of science literacy outreach. Graduate training programs in academia integrate outreach teaching components to equip future scientists with a variety of communication skills, which may reflect either a transmission of knowledge to the learner or through engagement with the learner. As such, the education component of the "Partnership for Research and Education in Plant Breeding and Genetics" grant sought to train graduate plant science students ( N = 17) to disseminate their research to K-12 audiences. Graduate students participated in outreach teacher training using Learner-Centered Teaching (LCT) strategies to develop and conduct two science lessons for K-12 audiences in a non-formal and formal educational settings. The purpose of this mixed methods study was to describe the outreach teaching beliefs and values of plant science graduate students after receiving the outreach training. The researcher used a deductive approach to analyze and triangulate multiple data sources, including teaching self-efficacy questionnaires, LCT knowledge tests, reflection essays, and semi-structured interviews. The research study was conceptualized into three phases (i.e., course instruction and teaching experiences; follow-up questionnaire and interviews; triangulation) of a multistrand design and resulted in three major conclusions. First, plant science graduate students valued learning how to engage with K-12 audiences using active learning. Graduate students' expressed values of the following qualities: (a) how learners can apply knowledge to emerging agricultural issues, (b) how professors (i.e., graduate students as teachers) coach and facilitate, intertwining teaching and assessing, and (c) how to engage with learners actively by providing useful and timely feedback. Second, graduate students described field-based teaching experiences within formal and non-formal educational settings that helped them practice communication skills and develop their teaching self-efficacy. In this study, graduate students valued the following elements of a field-based experience: (a) participation in planning the experience, (b) selection of the learners by age and grade level demographics, and (c) multiple visits to teach the selected group of students. And third, graduate students described an enjoyment of teaching K-12 audiences and the K-12 experience was useful in preparing them to communicate science to technical and non-technical audiences. Graduate students' reflections of enjoyment were referenced with recognition to the sense of autonomy that the graduate students achieved throughout their learning experiences. Moreover, graduate students recognized the transferability of the knowledge and skills from the integrated learning experience for their academic and career endeavors. As graduate-level academic programs continue to adjust and adapt to prepare plant science graduate students to meet the needs of an ever changing society, the following implications are discussed: acquiring (LCT) teaching skills to communicate science literacy, benefits of K-12 audience field-based experiences, the opportunity to use a constructivist approach to assist learners in facilitating science outreach and implications for policy.




Knobloch, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Plant sciences|Agricultural education|Higher education

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