Meghan Rorick, The University of Montana


In light of the impacts of climate and land use change on water quality and distribution worldwide, it is important that citizens make informed decisions regarding human land and water use. Many, however, lack the scientific knowledge necessary to understand these issues, indicating that today’s school system is not adequately preparing many students to become active, environmentally literate citizens. Place-based education (PBE) and sensitivity to students’ funds of knowledge (FOK) are two recent approaches that may help teachers and school officials develop science curricula and instructional practices that better support students in developing scientific understanding. This thesis examines the relationship between western Montana and Tucson, Arizona 6th grade students’ PBE experiences, their water-related FOK, and their understanding of water systems. As part of the larger Water Reasoning Tools project, students took a water knowledge pre-test before lessons in class. They also took a survey that asked about their past PBE and water-related FOK experiences. For this study, the students’ pretests were analyzed using the water learning progression assessment framework. Their surveys were also analyzed, and students were given scores that reflect their PBE and FOK experiences. The pretest and survey scores were then statistically compared to see if there were correlations between the variables (water knowledge, PBE, and FOK). Results showed that the 6th grade students in these states demonstrated informal reasoning about water systems, and that they have had relatively few PBE and FOK experiences. Results also showed a correlation between students’ scores on some sections of the pretest and their FOK experiences. There was no correlation, however, between test scores and PBE. This could be due to students’ few past experiences with PBE and FOK learning. In addition, the small amount of variance among all three variables made it difficult to find significant correlations. At a time when scientists are speaking directly to the public, it is important that our schools support students in becoming citizens capable of using model-based, scientific reasoning to make decisions about environmental issues. With further development, PBE and sensitivity to students’ FOK may be two approaches with promise for designing science curricula to help students learn science with understanding.


© Copyright 2013 Meghan Rorick