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DETERMINING THE SCIENCE, AGRICULTURE, NATURAL RESOURCE AND YOUTH LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT OUTCOMES FOR PARTICIPANTS IN THE MEMORIAL MIDDLE SCHOOL AGRICULTURAL SCIENCE CENTER

PROJECT DIRECTOR: SKELTON, P., DORMODY, T. J.

PERFORMING ORGANIZATION AGRI & EXTENSION EDUCATION NEW MEXICO STATE UNIV LAS CRUCES,NM 88003

NON TECHNICAL SUMMARY: The Memorial Middle School Agricultural Science Center (MMS ASC) is a youth science center focusing on agricultural and natural resource science, modeled after the NMSU outstate agricultural and natural resource science centers (New Mexico State University, 2008). The MMS ASC was established in 2005 and is a partnership between the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service and Las Vegas City Schools in New Mexico. The purpose of the Center is to develop a K-12 teaching and learning model of excellence for agricultural and natural resource science that complements in-class teaching by providing context to content through experiential learning opportunities. The MMS ASC provides high context and high content learning opportunities for students at Memorial Middle School through greenhouse experiments; a learning landscape linking students to ecological study; and demonstration of alternative energy systems, agricultural systems, and environmental conservation practices. Currently, the primary content areas addressed by the Center are ecological restoration, agroecology, and ecological monitoring. Learning of the content is enhanced through contextual hands-on experiments, field trips, and landscape analysis activities. Expected outcomes from this experiential learning model include: enhanced learning of basic and agricultural and natural resource sciences and youth leadership life skills development. Understanding the impacts of the Center on these key areas is timely, needed, and relevant.

OBJECTIVES: The study is designed to test the following 18 null hypotheses (Ho) and answer the following three research objectives (RO). Ho1. There will be no differences in 8th grade science achievement (posttest scores and percent at or above grade level) between students participating in the MMS ASC and those at WLVMS (Ho1). Ho2. There will be no difference in 8th grade agriculture and natural resources achievement (posttest scores) between students participating in the MMS ASC and those at WLVMS (Ho2) and between the five demographic subgroups at the two schools (Ho2a, Ho2b, Ho2c, Ho2d, and Ho2e) Ho3. There will be no difference in 8th grade youth leadership life skills development [Youth Leadership Life Skills Development Scale (YLLSDS) posttest scores] between students participating in the MMS ASC and those at WLVMS (Ho3) and between the five demographic subgroups at the two schools (Ho3a, Ho3b, Ho3c, Ho3d, Ho3e). RO1. To determine if relationships exist between youth leadership life skills development (YLLSDS posttest scores) and science achievement (posttest scores) for 8th grade MMS and WLVMS students. RO2. To determine if relationships exist between youth leadership life skills development (YLLSDS posttest scores) and agriculture and natural resource achievement (posttest scores) for 8th grade MMS and WLVMS students. RO3. To determine the career interests of entering (starting 6th grade) and exiting (completing 8th grade) MMS and WLVMS students and more specifically their interests and stability of interests in careers in science, agriculture, and natural resources within and between the two schools and within and between the five demographic subgroups at the two schools.

APPROACH: The study will employ two repetitions of both a cross-sectional and a longitudinal quasi-experimental research design to test Ho1, Ho2, Ho3, and their sub hypotheses. For the cross-sectional analyses, the separate-sample pretest-posttest control group design (Campbell & Stanley, 1963) will be employed in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 repetitions with different random samples of MMS and LVWMS 6th and 8th graders. For the longitudinal analyses, a nonequivalent control group design (Campbell & Stanley, 1963) will be employed in two repetitions with the same random samples of 2009 and 2010 6th graders utilized for the cross-sectional design, measured again when they reach the end of the 8th grade in spring 2012 and 2013, respectively. RO1 and RO2 will be addressed with a correlational design for all four samples of 8th graders at both schools. RO3 will be addressed with the longitudinal design utilized to test Ho1, Ho2, Ho3, and their sub hypotheses (the nonequivalent control group design). The two quasi-experimental research designs are relatively free of sources of internal and external invalidity. After students have been randomly selected for each sample from each school, the biggest threat to internal validity for these designs is possible differences in intrasession history between the students at the treatment and control middle schools during the one-year duration of replications utilizing the cross-sectional design and the three-year duration of replications utilizing the longitudinal design. Utilizing two middle schools from the same city (Las Vegas, New Mexico) is an attempt to minimize differences in intrasession history between students at the two schools. Records will be kept and reported by the researchers during each year of the study to account for intrasession differences between the two middle schools that could confound the results (e.g., a dramatic change in science teaching staff at one school). For the longitudinal design, interaction between pre-testing and the treatment should be minimal because of the richness and long duration of the treatment.

Enhancing Youth Science Achievement

GOALS AND OBJECTIVES: The research described in this proposal is necessary to determine if youth achievement in agricultural and natural resource science is affected by MMSAEEC programs as theorized in the conceptual process model. The study will inform program improvement efforts and provide the researchers the knowledge base necessary to successfully diffuse and implement the MMSAEEC program model at other New Mexico and U.S. secondary schools. Furthermore, more research is needed to understand how youth development and education can be improved in meaningful ways that addresses current gaps in science literacy. The study is designed to meet the following four research objectives:

  1. Design and develop evaluation tools to test the conceptual process model.
  2. Administer instruments to students involved in MMSAEEC programs using a pre and post test design to determine if outcomes are occurring as theorized.
  3. Identify and describe linkages between processes in the model.
  4. Submit manuscripts and/or abstracts about the MMSAEEC teaching and learning model for publication and presentations.

RESEARCH METHODS: The study will employ pre and post test program evaluations to measure the degree of changes to science knowledge, skill development, reasoning abilities and science comprehension as a result of the program treatment. The researchers will develop valid and reliable instruments that reflect content delivered through MMSAEEC programs based on New Mexico agriculture, food, and natural resource content and performance standards (Castillo, 2003). Instruments will be reviewed by a panel of experts to establish face and content validity.

All students attending Memorial Middle School participate in MMSAEEC programs at each grade level (6th, 7th and 8th). Therefore, the population for the study will be all students attending Memorial Middle School (MMS) for the academic year 2011/2012. There are 384 students enrolled at MMS this academic year and it is expected that the school district will have a similar enrollment size next year. In order to protect individual student identity, all data will be combined and summarized as a whole data set.

Reliability of the pre and post test program evaluations will be established with a test-retest method where instruments will be administered at the onset of a program and immediately after program completion. The science knowledge, reasoning ability, and science comprehension instruments will measure changes to test scores and will be analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics. The skill development instrument will use Likert-type items to measure change and will be analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics. Additional data collection methods to provide study richness will include: use of existing student performance data and the use of qualitative methods (e.g., student interviews) to provide greater insight into outcomes.