We have seen how hands-on activities and drawing activities can enhance student awareness and understanding about plants. Today we look at the effectiveness of an outdoor education program in Plants Have a Chance: Outdoor Educational Programmes Alter Students’ Knowledge and Attitudes Towards Plants.
Biologist Jana Fancovicova and ecologist, Pavol Prokop, wanted to know if plant-centered activities conducted in a nonformal environment would influence Slovakian students’ attitudes toward plants, as well as their knowledge of plants. The program they evaluated is a program that might be found at any nature preserve or nature center. Program participants were taken to a meadow where they learned about the meadow’s ecosystem and its plants. Program participants recorded their observations in a journal and discussed their observations with their instructors at the end of each session.
The participants in this study were 5th grade students, ages 10-11. The students were divided into two groups, each with 17 children. One group served as the control group and the other as the experimental group. When taken to the meadow, members of the control group did not receive any instruction and were allowed to play sports (Fancovicova & Prokop, 2011). Members of the experimental group, however, learned about the meadow’s ecology, its plants and its animals through activities lead by forest experts and a graduate student (Fancovicova & Prokop, 2011).
Students’ attitudes and knowledge towards plants was measured using the authors’ questionnaire composed of Likert-type questions. Students also completed open-ended questions, multiple-choice questions and even a drawing task requiring students to draw the meadow’s ecosystem. Students were asked to include plants, animals, soil and the sun in their drawing and Fancovicova and Prokop (2011) graded each child’s drawing by assigning 1 point for each component included in the meadow scene.
The research questions Fancovicova and Prokop (2011) wanted to investigate were:
- Can an outdoor education program positively influence participants’ attitudes towards plants?
- Can an outdoor education program positively influence participants’ knowledge about plants?
- Does having a garden lead to having more positive attitudes about plants?
- Will female participants acquire more knowledge of plants than male participants?
- Will female participants have more positive attitudes towards plants than male participants?
A brief summary of Fancovicova and Prokop’s findings follows:
- Outdoor education programs can positively influence participants’ attitudes towards plants. This appears to be the case even if the outdoor program is located on campus. Fancovicova and Prokop (2011) determined that expensive long-distance field trips are not necessary. They also found that their outdoor program not only changed students’ attitudes towards plants, but changed students’ appreciation for the subject of biology.
- Outdoor education programs focused specifically on plants can positively influence participants’ knowledge of plants.
- Having a garden is not necessarily linked to having more positive attitudes about plants. Fancovicova and Prokop (2011) suggest that a study of “active gardening” be conducted to evaluate possible links between garden ownership and one’s attitudes towards plants.
- Female participants acquired more knowledge of plants than male participants, as was determined by their test scores.
- Female participants’ attitudes towards plants were no different than the attitudes towards male participants.
Fancovicova and Prokop (2011) feel that to improve attitudes towards plants and to teach the value of plants, it is important to engage students in the active caring for plants, naming of plants and identification of plants. They encourage teachers to consider creating outdoor experiences on campus, as they found that travel to distant sites is not necessary. Fancovicova and Prokop (2011) recommend bringing live plants into the classroom and recommend teaching about plants using non-lecture techniques.
Fancovicova and Prokop’s detailed statistical analysis can be viewed in their article.
Fancovicova, Jana & Pavol Prokop. 2011. Plants have a chance: outdoor educational programs alter students’ knowledge and attitudes towards plants. Environmental Education Research. 17(4): 537-551.