Thesis Defense – Elizabeth Burroughs, November 22


MST Candidate
Elizabeth Burroughs

Thesis Advisor: Susan McKay

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Science in Teaching
December, 2010

Monday, November 22
10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium (165 ESRB)

The Astrobiology Project: Effects on Students’ Science Aspirations and Achievement, and an Analysis of Self-Handicapping Behavior

A reformed science curriculum for middle school and high school students was piloted in Maine in 2008-2009 as part of a state initiative to increase student interest and performance in STEM fields. Astrobiology, An Integrated Science Approach, developed by TERC and published by It’s About Time Publishers, is a year-long interdisciplinary curriculum designed to engage students in science by offering a series of inquiry-based activities with the theme of how we search for life in the universe.

The astrobiology pilot study was conducted by the University of Maine and the Maine Department of Education. It involved ten teachers from eight Maine middle and high schools. Most teachers taught both astrobiology and control classes. Most classes were grades eight and nine, with a few in grades ten through twelve. 274 students were included in the study. Students took pretest and posttest science content and science attitude surveys. Teachers also completed a survey at the end, to provide their impressions of the astrobiology curriculum and its implementation.

The first set of goals of this thesis was to determine whether the astrobiology curriculum was more or less effective than traditional science courses for Maine students, both in terms of science learning and attitudes about science; and to analyze teacher responses to the curriculum and the accompanying professional development.

The second set of goals involved an unexpected result that was found when analyzing the short-answer questions on the content surveys. A large number of students provided responses that were not serious answers to the questions. These types of responses could provide insights about the use of “self-handicapping” – a performance-avoid goal type – in this population of students. Self-handicapping is important to study, because it can indicate problems with students’ learning motivations. Using the astrobiology data, this research compared the prevalence of self-handicapping behavior between eighth and ninth grade students and between sexes, and whether self-handicapping behavior was correlated with students’ self-efficacy.

Statistical analyses revealed no significant differences in content learning between astrobiology and control students. There were also no significant differences in science attitudes between the two groups. Teachers tended to feel either strongly negative or strongly positive about the curriculum and the professional development.