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Connecting teachers and students to the natural world through Operation Spider: an aspirations citizen science project.

This paper reports on a year-long citizen science project that focused on improving learning for students identified as most at risk of not succeeding at school. This project was one element of a broader university-based aspirations Initiative which aimed to engage students from low socio-economic schools in rigorous learning in order to increase their capability and aspiration to complete school and go on to university. With this objective, the university-based citizen science team worked collaboratively with four teachers from two schools who planned and implemented sequential lessons based on a citizen science topic on spiders. As part of their unit, the classes also participated in a science day visit to the university. In this article, the four teachers provided insights into one aspect of their changed practice.


In 2010, the University of South Australia (UniSA) was awarded funding by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations under the Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund, to improve outreach programs in schools in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. Many of these schools fall into a low socio-economic bracket and young people are less likely to consider a tertiary education once leaving school, than their peers in more affluent regions. This two-year project involved collaboration between the School of Education and a network of schools in order to develop programs designed to raise educational aspirations for learners, foster excellence in school-based curriculum development and ultimately to increase tertiary participation. Participating schools worked with university educators on action research based projects that would help teachers engage their students in intellectually demanding learning experiences and support them to be successful learners. Four Action Research Networks were established: Citizen Science-Urban Ecology in the Middle Years of Schooling (Citizen Science Network hereafter); Engagement and Wellbeing; ICT and Literacy and Reading: Parents and the Early Years. This paper focuses on the stories of teachers who participated in the Citizen Science Network.


The Citizen Science Network builds on a state-wide Citizen Science program which began in 2007. Citizen Science is a term used to describe programs run by scientists that involve public participation. Through the collaboration of UniSA with media and industry partners (Barbara Hardy Institute, 2011), Citizen Science has been promoted in the wider community through a series of annual projects focused on local wildlife species: Operation Bluetongue (2007) Operation Possum (2008), Operation Magpie (2009) (see Paige et al., 2010) and Operation Spider (2010). This paper focuses on tour teachers and their classes who were involved in Operation Spider through the Citizen Science Network of the Aspirations initiative. The Citizen Science Network aimed to develop teachers' confidence in planning a sequential unit of work which would connect their students to the natural world via the theme of spiders. The Citizen Science Network involved collaboration between the four classroom teachers from two low socio-economic schools and five academics from UniSA, three of whom were from the School of Education and two from the School of Natural and Built Environments.

Operation Spider presented an ideal opportunity for connecting primary and middle years learners to their natural environment. Spiders inhabit locations within students' realms of experience (e.g. home and school gardens), and offer opportunities for inquiry-based learning, involving both research and practical investigations. As Chawla and Cushing (2007) report, effective school education projects should be relatively long-term with high levels of experiential learning and worthwhile achievable goals. With these factors in mind, the research team developed a range of support materials to help teachers run a scientific inquiry unit as part of Operation Spider. This support material was available online and included a series of fact sheets on spiders, a lesson sequence proforma and links to related information (Barbara Hardy Institute 2010). There were also links to an online survey instrument where students could contribute to the wider Operation Spider project by uploading information about the spiders in their local environment and their attitudes towards them.

Literature Links

A range of literature has informed this project. This article focuses on connectivity to nature and two aspects of Education for Sustainability: biodiversity (i.e. spiders) which links to connectivity to nature, and social justice and equity (i.e. the Aspirations initiative).

Connectivity to nature

In recent years, the importance of reconnecting children to nature (Daniels & Tait, 2008; Louv, 2008; Miles, 2008; Sobel, 2008; Suzuki, 2010) has gained impetus as children are increasingly wired to technology. According to Sobel (1996, p. 10), 'what is important is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it and feel comfortable in it before being asked to heal its wounds'. Miles (2008, p. 4) suggests that if '[environmental] educators develop a sense of place in children that fosters attachment and bonding with the natural world, and is grounded in the resources and context of the community, then these children will not only develop a sense of the place that they are in, they will also (hopefully) develop care and concern for other places as weir. A growing body of research links our mental physical and spiritual health directly with our association with nature. Children need good nutrition, adequate sleep and contact with nature for wellbeing. Orr (2011) suggests that if we love our children we would not be building more shopping malls or freeways but rather bike frails and parks. With school systems, media and parents scaring children out of natural places, 'children spend less of their lives in natural places [and] their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically and this reduces the richness of the human experience' (Louv 2006. p. 3). Citizen science projects are one practical way to connect children to significant species in the natural world, in their backyard or schoolyard.

Sustainability and biodiversity

The education sector has a vital role to play In influencing young people's adoption of sustainable behaviours (Monkhouse & Dibb, 2011, p. 35) and this includes sustainable behaviour with respect to biodiversity. Schools can promote and model sustainability by committing to conserving and improving the environment, encouraging biodiversity in the school grounds (Gough & Sharpley, 2005) and valuing and developing healthy ecosystems (DEWHA, 2009, pp. 6-7).This ensures that communities use, conserve and enhance their resources 'so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained, and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased' (AuSSI-SA, 2007, p. 3). Environmentally-focused projects provide the space to 'achieve lifestyles based on, among other things, ecological integrity and respect for all life forms (DEWHA, 2009; UNESCO, 2009). However, this requires, 'regardless of the subject of the curriculum, that students fearn and practice holistic systems thinking and be able to apply such thinking to real world situations and understand how the ecological systems of which they are a part function and are integrated' (AASHE, 2010). Operation Spider attempts to address this need for a better understanding and more empafhefic disposition towards biodiversity, by looking at the place of spiders in the personal and ecological lives of individuals.

The Education for Sustainability (EfS) literature identifies biodiversity and ecological investigations as an essential part of a school's curriculum (AuSSI-SA, 2007, p. 21). Science education in the school and wider community contributes in a significant way to the biodiversity aspect of EfS. Science learning in the school has the potential to link scientific ideas with community concern and activity, and provide opportunities for students to actively participate in local issues (Gough & Sharpley, 2005, p. 8). Operation Spider focuses on biodiversity and respect and caring for life in all its diversity. It looks at the importance of spiders in our every day social and biological lives, both at school as part of the mandated curriculum, but also at home where students explore, perhaps with other members of their family/community, the life of spiders. Knowledge about spiders, including an awareness of their ecological value and our attitudes towards them are all important when an EfS or urban ecology approach is taken (Gough & Sharpley, 2005).

Sustainability and social justice and equity

Another key theme in the EfS literature is valuing and focusing on basic human needs--the rights of all people and societies for fair and equitable access to the resources they need for survival and to provide quality of life (AuSSI-SA, 2007). This theme includes social justice, environmental health, and equality (gender, religious, sexual racial and ethnic). The Bonn Declaration (UNESCO, 2009), based on 'values of justice, equity, tolerance, sufficiency and responsibility' states that, 'Through education and lifelong learning, we can achieve lifestyles based on economic and social justice, food security, ecological integrity, sustainable livelihoods, respect for all life forms, and strong values that foster social cohesion, democracy and collective action'.

What EfS recommends for all students' learning--the pedagogy--is particularly important for the schools participating in this study. These schools are located in suburbs where the development of cultural capital, knowledge and behaviours that provide the means for succeeding in life are not well demonstrated by parents and the community in general. In this circumstance, students need added support and explicit instruction in the development of valued knowledge and life skills. Jucker (2002, p. 4) suggests that EfS should 'not just be an isolated transmission of specialist information, but a process whereby students are empowered to take their learning into their own hands. It should make fully responsible citizens out of them, capable of contextualising what they learn into their practical life. Or, as Sterling (1996, p. 35) advocates, the educational process 'should itself be socially sustainable in the sense that it is based on meaningful rather than token empowerment, participation and ownership'. A similar emphasis is made by AuSSI-SA (2007):

  EfS requires an integrating pedagogy across the school curriculum
  and between the school curriculum and the wider community,
  particularly students' homes. EfS aims to collaboratively develop
  a vision of a sustainable community which includes both an
  understanding of how the world (ecosystems) works but also the
  associated values that underpin community-wide cultural change
  towards sustainability (p. 3)

Norberg-Hodge (2000) concludes that:

  Instead of memorizing a standardized universal knowledge, children
  need to be given the tools to understand their own environment. In the
  process, the narrow specialization and urban orientation of
  Western-style education would give way to a broader, more contextual
  and ecological perspective. Location-specific knowledge of this kind
  would be holistic and specific at the same time. (p. 164)

These three aspects of the literature--connectivity to nature, sustainability and biodiversity, and sustainability, social justice and equity--form the theoretical framework and justification for the work that the teachers in this study did in their classrooms. By participating in the Operation Spider project and the Aspirations initiative, the teachers and their students developed a sense of ownership of their learning, as detailed in the following accounts. Many students demonstrated increased connectivity to their school and homes, and there was a clear outcome that, with appropriate support students from socially disadvantaged areas can develop aspirations for further learning.

The Project

In early 2010, two schools in the northern suburbs, one primary and one secondary, were invited to participate in the Citizen Science Network as part of the Aspirations initiative. Two primary teachers, one Year 4 and one Year 6, and three Year 8 teachers volunteered for the year-long project. Their task was to develop and teach a unit of class work on spiders and to research an aspect of their teaching practice, such as a new approach or an area for improvement, using action research methodology.

During terms one and two, the Citizen Science Network teachers participated in professional learning sessions in order to develop their confidence in planning a unit of work about spiders which would address the objectives of the Aspirations initiative. These objectives included assisting low socio economic students to develop aspirations for the future, and helping the teachers to identify researchable aspects of their own teaching practice. The content of the professional learning was negotiated, depending on the needs of the teachers. Some sessions involved whole day workshops in which teachers explored unit planning, pedagogical approaches, and content and information about spiders. These resource-rich professional learning experiences led the teachers towards the term 3 unit of work on spiders.

The second professional learning session focussed on science pedagogy, including the 5Es (Australian Academy of Science, 2008) and Interactive Teaching Framework (Faire & Cosgrove, 1993). Both of these pedagogical frameworks focus on the importance of students' prior knowledge and inquiry-based learning. Central themes include connecting students to their own built environments (home, school) and natural environments (play areas, back yards), being explicit about the science content and about the process involved in thinking and working scientifically, and authentic assessment strategies.

One outcome of the professional learning workshops was the teachers' decision to introduce their students to the university in order to open their minds to the possibility of tertiary study, and to reduce any of their apprehensions o^ lack of knowledge about what university education entailed. Consequently, during term three when their students were studying spiders, the five teachers brought their classes to university for a day. The students participated in science-based workshops on spiders, astronomy and wetlands. The day concluded with a spectacular science show and talks by two inspiring pre-service education students from northern Adelaide who spoke about their eventful journeys towards higher education.

The second level of the Citizen Science Network focused on the teachers' pedagogically-based action research projects. Having identified their individual research questions, the teachers began to collect and then analyse their emerging classroom data concurrently as they taught the spider topic. Key pedagogical issues emerged as these teachers pushed the boundaries of their practice, including innovative use of ICTs, a focus on students' questions as the basis for investigations, and the impact on students of their visit to the University. As findings emerged, it became clear that one key outcome of the spider focus was the teachers' positive use of the school grounds to engage students' in meaningful science.

At the end of the year, the Aspirations initiative held a conference for all school/teacher participants during which each network's findings were presented to their colleagues, project peers and invited guests including Education Department superintendents, principals and university academics. Table 1 lists the abstracts from the teachers involved in the Citizen Science Network.

'Red backs, Huntsman and White tails'. Presented by Brad and Lisa

Research Question: What impact has participation in Operation Spider had on students' engagement and learning in science? An exploration of students' before and after views relating to two key aspects of the aspirations project: the students' attitude to spiders and, their educational aspirations beyond compulsory schooling.

'Where are spiders' brains?' Presented by Ann-Louise and David

Research Question: What impact on learning did a broad and varied range of pedagogical strategies with a focus on questioning to engage students with a science topic on spiders have on three Year 8 classes?

Table 1: Abstracts from the Citizen Science Network teachers submitted to the conference proceedings.

Teachers' Stories

The following section details key themes of Citizen Science Network as identified by four of the five teachers and told in their own voice. It provides some insight into the journey and pedagogical change that each of the teachers grappled with as they implemented units of work that connected students to urban ecology. It is important to note that all four teachers were early career teachers--that is, within their first five years of teaching. These teachers found their involvement in the project as being central to their emerging practice, and they identified their participation in Operation Spider as one of the key factors. It is of note that each of the teachers had either a major or sub-major in science in their teacher qualification. Whilst this is common for secondary school teachers, it is rare for primary teachers.


My Story: A focus on questions

In order to grasp the full message of this story, you need to understand the context in which I teach: 2010 is my second full year as a middle school teacher and my first year of teaching within the metropolitan area. The school is a category one school in terms of disadvantage, located in a very low socio economic area. Here I was given a Year 8 science class with the majority of students having behaviour management issues and/or students on negotiated learning plans. Attendance is also an issue, with many of the students disengaged in science as they do not see it as a core subject and many don't understand how science will help them after school. Teaching this class has been a great learning experience for me as I strive to make the curriculum as engaging as possible and related to their lives outside of school.

Engaging students in their school work is the first step to fostering success. I believe one of the best ways to engage students is to relate it to their everyday lives, and ensure the curriculum is flexible so it can be sculptured around the student's interests and questions. However, engaging the students is only the beginning. My story began during one of my senior biology classes when the students were asked to formulate a testable hypothesis (or a question) and design their own practical investigation to find a possible answer. To me it seemed like a simple task, but teachers should NEVER assume. The students really struggled to generate a question which involved a practical investigation. Students are so accustomed to asking and answering simple, closed questions, which can normally be answered by typing the question info This led me to ask my own question, 'Do exploratory activities encourage student questioning?'

I decided to investigate this question using Operation Spider as the vehicle. I incorporated into the spider topic a range of engaging, explorative and investigative activities then analysed how the types of questions students asked changed over the unit of work. In order to collect the data, I asked the students to complete a journal at the end of the lesson in which they had to ask a question in relation to the topic. However, here came my first hurdle.

This particular group of students needed carefully scaffolded activities, so asking them to write a journal reflecting on the lesson threw them into chaos. I overcome this hurdle by constructing a list of questions for them to answer in relation to the lesson. These included:

* What was the lesson about?

* What did you like about the lesson?

* What part of the lesson do you think 'sucked'?

* A question coming out of the lesson

This technique proved to be far more successful as it provided cues for the students. The journals were collected after each lesson and formed the primary source of data for my research.

The second hurdle I faced was designing an exploratory activity. The aim was to get the students to write a testable hypothesis relating to where spiders can be found or how many spiders they would find around the school. The students were to go out with a map of the school and using a key, mark where they found spiders or webs. However, I was told that due to the nature of my class and OHS regulations that this would not be possible. The students were very disappointed, so I told them that they could look for and observe some spiders at home and share their findings. I wasn't expecting anything to come of this, because many of the students refuse to complete any sort of work out of school, but to my pleasant surprise, this simple task shaped the rest of the topic.

The next day, I had five spiders in jars sitting on my desk. The students who brought them in were full of pride, while the remaining students were instantly engaged. I found the students were asking two main questions: 'What type of spiders are they?' and 'Where did you find it?' Rather than tell them the species of spiders in the jars, I got the students to group the similar spiders together and then record the primary characteristics they could see, which they then compared to identification descriptors on the internet.

The following Monday I got an even bigger surprise when one of my students, Luke, brought in six different spiders in jars all with labels on them describing the physical characteristics of each spider (as he didn't know the names). The significance of this was that Luke was very disengaged in school; he was always late for class, has not handed in one piece of home work for the year and I was lucky if he did ten minutes of work a lesson. Yet there he was Monday morning first to class, telling everyone how he'd spent the weekend with his Grandpa catching spiders. I think another significant fact is that he catalogued each jar, thereby combining observation and literacy skills.

The next student task was a research project on a local spider, but rather than write a generic report, they had to do a 'Who am I?' research project, that gave their audience clues relating to their chosen spider.

The final activity I asked the students to complete was to construct a model of their local spider (the same spider as the 'Who am l' research project) and include a key to interpret the major features. The students loved this activity as they were able to apply the knowledge they had from the research assignment. During this 2-hour lesson I didn't have one student sent out, as all were completely involved in the task.

Analysing the student journals was very interesting, and is something that I had never attempted before, but will continue with in the future as it provides a great indicator of the students' progress, engagement and learning. I was a little disappointed to find that their questioning didn't change throughout the unit and all questions were based around simple, closed questions. However, I did find that the students thoroughly enjoyed, and were engaged in, the practical activities and research assignment, the latter coming as a surprise as it had not been my experience with these students previously. But what made this assignment different to previous work, was that they were researching something which could be found around them. I had many students coming up and saying 'Hey Miss, I saw one of those ... spiders tonight', hence they were thinking about school work at home, which was a great breakthrough.

I have gained a lot of knowledge through Operation Spider; of course I learnt about spiders, but having to reflect upon and analyse my teaching practices and students' work has been extremely beneficial to helping me not to just be a good teacher, but to be on the right road to becoming a much better teacher who can engage the students in valued learning.


My Story: Incorporating ICTs

I contend that the incorporation of ICTs within the student learning environment is essential for learning in present day classrooms. I have found that a carefully integrated ICT approach can dramatically enhance the attitude of disengaged students towards learning. Many students in modern society will simultaneously have a variety of digital literacies operating in their day-to-day lives. A student may be at home downloading a movie, updating a Facebook account, texting, twittering and listening to music, yet still claim to be bored. For this reason, if ICTs are used incorrectly in the school setting to engage students, it may in fact, hinder student learning and add further challenges for the teacher. As an educator I must be able to utilise ICTs in a way that will foster skills that students already possess, while encouraging them in a direction that will allow them to create their own meaningful learning environment.

Operation Spider allowed me to implement such teaching and learning approaches. Lessons would begin with a stimulating short video relating to an aspect of spiders which I intended to cover in the lesson. The video was not simply shown using VLC or Windows Media Player, but incorporated into a Keynote presentation' titled 'Spider TV. My method of presentation was not by mistake, I deliberately presented the video in a format which left students wondering, 'that's new!' and 'how is that done?' Our college is heavily Macintosh] focused and that has enabled my teaching style to differ from the technologies many students experience at home.

In my observations, students who experienced the opportunity to work with MacBook in class were able to increase their work productivity during lesson time. The increase in work output and quality of work was a result of insisting that written work was not a thing of the past. During a conventional computing lesson, students would simply copy and paste slabs of text into a Word document or PowerPoint presentation. This method of expressing work was dated and in need of improvement. To ensure students were still provided with opportunities to research effectively and summarise important information, written work became the fundamental element of a project, but not by cutting and pasting material from the web. We provided a checklist of information for students to find. This provided a framework which stopped students copying slabs of text. The students were given a choice on how they could represent their findings about spiders. Most of the fifty students selected to use iMovie. They used the answers to the questions as the text for their Movie. The collated photographs downloaded from the internet and those they had taken with a digital camera were used to construct a storyline. Loud and bold music by bands such as Rage Against the Machine and Eminem was used to set the scene.

On completion of each learning task, students were required to reflect on the lesson and journal their thoughts. These journals communicated what students liked about the lesson and what they thought 'sucked!' On evaluation of the journal comments it was clear that students preferred to express their understanding by utilising a variety of the new and exciting ICTs at their disposal. Once again, it was confirmed that while reading and writing still have their place in meaningful learning, students are more motivated when they are given the opportunity to take an active and more personal role in their learning.

Brad's Story;

Learning about spiders in our place

My name is Brad Hoekman. In 2010,1 was in my fourth year as a teacher. In this project I worked with Year 3/4 students in a school in Adelaide's outer northern suburbs. At the beginning of the year I decided it would be a good idea to buddy up with another staff member who also shared a keen interest in science. Together we aimed to help elevate the profile of the science curriculum within our school. Sometime during the first hectic week of term one, we were handed a fax from the University of South Australia. It had something to do with training and development surrounding science and spiders. Without any hesitation we both agreed to give it a go. It didn't seem like much at the time but this decision would go on to have a huge impact on our year and the learning outcomes of our students.

The community in which I work experiences high social needs and compound disadvantage, resulting in second and third generation unemployment, poverty and transience. The effect upon students is often characterised by poor attendance, low levels of engagement with school activities and significant health and behavioural problems. This set of circumstances can be very difficult at times but with each challenge comes the immense satisfaction and pride in knowing that you have achieved something worthwhile.

As we started our unit on spiders (see Table 2 for the lesson sequence) in term three, I had already gained a pretty good understanding about 'who' I was teaching. I reflected on this experience to customise my curriculum characteristics (what I would teach) and my instructional techniques (how I would teach). I overcame many of the behavioural challenges by thoroughly engaging students in science education.

A positive outcome is more likely to be found when teachers have the opportunity to learn and share with others, such as colleagues and parents, as part of a collaborative, supportive team. They can work together towards the shared goal of improving the student's educational outcomes and this equates to a powerful partnership. Throughout the unit on spiders, I was able to observe students engaging in educational tasks within the school environment. Many students encouraged parents to share what they had observed and as a result parents were able to observe their child doing educational tasks within the home environment. Sharing the information gained from these observations is a vital part of the process to improve educational outcomes. Establishing a two-way line of communication about the student takes time and trust, and the focus should remain on the person who benefits most from this process--the student.

This year we have been on an exciting journey with our students while taking part in the Aspirations project. Our goal has been to make a difference for our students learning and well being and we feel that we have been able to do this.

Spiders behind the toilet

The following story illustrates how a student worked scientifically in his investigation of the behaviour of spiders, and raises the importance of stressing the need to also work ethically. There were many unexpected outcomes, one in particular involving a toilet, a daddy long legs and a very enthusiastic nine-year-old boy. According to the student, this is how it happened,:

  It all started late one night when I was sitting on the toilet.
  Suddenly I felt a spider crawling up my leg. At first this made me
  feel startled and surprised but this quickly turned into excitement.
  Quickly getting off the toilet, I brushed the small spindly spider
  off my leg using some toilet paper. Then I looked behind the toilet
  to see if the spider had any friends and I noticed a massive female
  daddy long legs. I instantly ran out of the toilet, not in fear but
  out of pure excitement, heading straight for my room to get a piece
  of paper and pencil so I could observe and record the actions of the
  daddy long legs. I decided to record what happened when I spilt a few
  drops of water on the female daddy long legs spider. I noticed that
  of its legs dropped off. After this I tried dropping more water on a
  smaller male spider. This spider lost a leg. Then I poured a whole
  cup on another daddy long legs. Sadly, this spider died. I then left
  the toilet for the night, and that was night one.
  Two nights later I went back to the toilet to do some more observing.
  This time I put a huntsman in the female daddy long legs web.
  Suddenly, the female lost a leg. I was very surprised to see a seven
  legged spider. I recorded this on a different piece of paper,
  planning to make a Spider Pad when I finished my experiments. I
  then recaptured the huntsman and set it free behind the fridge. Then
  I went back into the bathroom and released a red back into the web of
  the female daddy long legs. The daddy long legs lost another leg.
  Two spiders down, one to go. I then released the red back in the
  shed. I then put down the trapdoor and it lost not one, but two
  legs! I then got tired and went back to bed. What I learned here
  is that the hairier, and the bigger make it lose more legs. I also
  know that trapdoors don't like cobwebs. That morning I spotted a
  dead spider. After the spider unit I learnt that it wasn't a
  dead spider, it was an exoskeleton!

(Note: The teacher talked to this student and the class about how to treat living things. It was an important lesson.)

Lisa's Story: University Excursion

One of the research questions that Brad and I were investigating was 'In what ways can we inspire students of the northern suburbs to have aspirations for higher education?'

We felt that one of the first things we needed to do was to educate students about university. Some of our students have never been to a university or are not familiar with the setting. We felt that in order to lift their aspirations for further education they had to make some connections to what that might look like as well as have discussions about the importance of higher education. And so the idea about a university visit and what it would look like began.

On August 20th 2010 students from four classes went on an excursion to the University of South Australia. The day was well-planned by the university staff. The students were divided into three groups and off we went on our journey. The activities consisted of a visit to the planetarium, a tour around the university including the library, a discussion by a lecturer in the Design and Technology Building, a workshop on classification of animals, and a session in the lecture theatre with a show by the science gang and guest speakers who shared with us some of their experiences about how they got into university and what it was like for them. This day of experiences provided the foreground in our endeavour to engage our students with the prospect of further education. One of the most powerful outcomes of the day occurred back at school when we were reflecting on our university visit. The students filled out surveys pre and post visit. While students were filling out their post visit surveys, they were asked if there had been any shift in their responses to whether they think they would like to attend university. One student changed his response from, 'I don't think I will go to university', to 'Yes I will go to university'. I asked the student what was it at university that made him change his mind. His response amazed me; he said it was because of the guest speaker.

During the final lecture, one of the guest speakers had shared her story. She was a third year education student. She told us that even if you live in the northern suburbs you shouldn't let that stop you following your dreams, and that even when you suggest to others that you would like to go to university, and you are ridiculed you should still follow your dream, even if you have to repeat Year 12 in order to get the marks required for university. The message was to follow your dream and persist and work hard to make your dreams come true. The student in my class believed that because he lives in the northern suburbs, he would never make it to university. If we hadn't come to the university that day, and that student hadn't heard that story, he would still believe that he wasn't included in the students able to attend university. I am pleased that the university visit shifted many students' thinking and ideals. I believe with continued support and positive experiences we can lift our students' aspirations.

Findings/Summary Comments

These four stories reflect only a small part of the teachers' learning that took place in the context of the Citizen Science Network and Operation Spider. When the Citizen Science team started this initiative it was hard to visualise what the outcomes might be. To find out what impact participation in the project has had on these teachers, we interviewed each of the teachers towards the end of the year. From the interview data six key themes emerged that we can take on board for subsequent projects:

1. Teachers found the regular meetings and the opportunity to have time out from regular teaching for research and writing essential for success and enjoyment.

2. There was a marked improvement in student behaviours in each classroom. Students were getting attention for all the right reasons. Deep learning had occurred for many students; that is, information was being recalled and applied some months after the spider topic.

3. Using a Citizen Science topic, such as Operation Spider, was considered an excellent model for science teachers with little background in ecology.

4. All teachers noticed that for some students it was the first time that they had engaged in a school topic, made a connection to home by involving family, or had done their homework. Irrespective of their age, students enjoyed 'show and tell1 of home experiences with spiders.

5. The University visit was enjoyed by students and raised the aspirations of many. However, as one of the teachers mentioned, more than one visit would be needed for any chance of long term impact.

6. Both students and teachers learned a great deal about spiders and developed an empathy and appreciation for them--connectivity to place.

From this experience, it would seem that the factors that improve the effectiveness of school professional learning programs include teachers' involvement in long term projects, high levels of experiential learning, and worthwhile goals that are achievable. The teacher conference presentations provided evidence that the Aspirations initiative was successful in influencing each teacher's pedagogy. Involving students in observing spiders in the schoolyard and in their homes provided a motivational context for learning science.


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ENGAGE:     Class discussion about spiders
            Students drew spider diagrams, recorded what they
            'already knew' and answered a questions relating to their
            behaviour and opinions towards spiders.
            Viewed real images and diagrams of spiders and compared
            them with their own attempts.
            Followed by a class discussion.

EXPLORE:    Hands on activities
            Explore the concept or skill
            Make sense of the ideas
            Describe new knowledge
            - Spider projects (research)
            - Oral presentations
            - Conducting spider observation surveys
            - Watching documentaries
            - Observing real spiders (class 'pets' + preserved
            - Making plasticine model spiders
            Photos: Making models.
            - Class discussions/reflection
            - Looking at spiders using microscopes
            - Science word wall (also including diagrams, pictures
            Photo: Exploratory experiences - Mapping where spiders
            were found in the school yard

EXPLAIN:    Concepts and terms used to describe learning Explanation
            follows experience
            - Oral presentations
            - Class discussions, reflecting on experiences
            - Projects/School assembly presentations
            - Writing Recounts of experiences
            - Asking questions and researching answers
            - Spider Observation Surveys (hypothesising, explaining
            findings etc.)

ELABORATE:  Apply knowledge and skills to new situations Greater
            depth to learning
            - Collaborative learning
            - Students applied skills and knowledge gained to our
            next unit of work (Para Wirra Recreation Park).
            - Many students continued to extend their learning at
            home, working with parents/family etc.
            - Applied knowledge and skills to create model spiders.

EVALUATE:   Reflect on and review learning Evidence of changes to
            understandings and beliefs
            - Assessing distance travelled
            - Comparing student diagrams/responses (before/after
            activities) Photo 4
            - Class discussion /reflection
            - Reflecting on student journal entries
            - Observing behaviour/attitudes towards spiders

Table 2: Lisa and Brad's lesson sequence (5Es Model).

About the Authors:

Kathy Paige, David Lloyd and Yvonne Zeegers are academics in the School of Education at the University of South Australia.

Philip Roetman and Chris Daniels are academics from the Barbara Hardy Institute at the University of South Australia.

Brad Hoekman, Lisa Linnell, Ann-Louise George and David Szilassy are classroom teachers at schools in South Australia.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Paige, Kathy; Lloyd, David; Zeegers, Yvonne; Roetman, Philip; Daniels, Chris; Hoekman, Brad; Linnell
Publication:Teaching Science
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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