A Study of STEM Learning Ecosystems in Maine (2022)


The Revealing Systemic Impacts of a Statewide Science Field Trip Program research study applies learning ecosystem models as a theoretical and analytic framework to investigate the impact of a longstanding, statewide field trip program in the state of Maine. The study uses the LabVenture program as an example of a longstanding field trip that has been running for more than 15-years and reaches 70% of students across the state to understand potential community-level impacts. Although there are many prior studies of field trips that focus on students, teachers or schools, the characteristics of the LabVenture program allow us to extend this work by exploring community-level questions such as: To what degree does an experience that is shared across a community lead to a traceable change that can be measured for those who participated and across the broader community? In what ways, if at all, can one out-of-school experience have an influence on the larger learning ecosystem (e.g., the Maine education system)? The video will highlight our research findings from complementary data collection methods including retrospective interviews with students and teacher alumni, a statewide survey administered with the public across the state of Maine, intercept interviews and focus group discussions in case study communities. We look forward to talking with other researchers conducting studies with community partners and to discussing implications of study findings with researchers and education practitioners.

NSF Award: 1811452


This discussion took place during the TERC Video Showcase Event Nov. 14-21, 2023. Discussion is now closed.
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Jim Hammerman
Jim Hammerman
November 13, 2023 9:12 pm
Welcome to the discussion of our study about the long-term community impacts of the LabVenture field trip. We are excited to be in our final year of the project, analyzing the huge amounts of data we have collected, and learning a lot about how the program works and, more generally, about the ecosystems of formal, informal, and community-based learning opportunities across Maine.

LabVenture has always been focused on providing equitable opportunities for students across Maine, and it seems to be working! Our analyses of community attendance over the years suggests that community wealth/ SES is not a predictor of attendance after accounting for distance, proximity to the coastline, and size of community, though each of these is associated with attendance in interesting ways. As noted, community champions also play an important role in perpetuating participation in innovative programs.

Our community case studies are finding rich and complex connections among the people and institutions that support learning, as well as a range of skills, ideas, and values that people feel are important to know to be successful in their communities.

We would love to hear your thoughts and questions about our project.

Brian Drayton
Brian Drayton
November 14, 2023 8:19 pm
This is a great program, and I am sure that it’s a very rich field for research. Of course you can only get a limited amount into a video like this, so here’s a couple of questions that came to mind as I watched:

  1. What impacts on communities have you seen? Your model postulates reciprocal influences, but student impact is a bit easier to measure,I imagine.
  2. What kinds of impact are you measuring (e.g. affective/attitudinal, science content, science practices, socio-technical elements, changes in teacher practice, etc) There are so many possibilities! Which ones are you watching?
Jim Hammerman
Jim Hammerman
November 16, 2023 2:23 pm
Reply to  Brian Drayton
Hi Brian. Thanks for your questions. While there is other research that GMRI and its partners are conducting about direct impacts on students, what’s interesting about this work is that it focuses on impacts on communities. LabVenture has had a long and wide reach, with 70% of 5th and 6th graders from all parts of Maine traveling by bus to Portland for each of the last 17 years, and some communities sending their students for all or nearly all of those years. We wonder, how has that made a difference in the knowledge and attitudes of people in these communities? Our community case studies will start to answer that.

One interesting piece of this work is that we conducted a statewide survey with a representative sample of 1113 people, with help from the NORC survey firm. We asked about people’s knowledge about GMRI and the LabVenture trip, and their views about informal learning and field trips and where learning happens. We also asked a set of “tracer” questions (Falk & Needham, 2011) to see if people in communities whose middle school students went to LabVenture have more knowledge about the sorts of things that students would have learned about on the trip than people in communities whose students went less frequently. We are in the middle of analyzing these data, but there are some promising suggestions so far.

Falk, J. H., & Needham, M. D. (2011). Measuring the impact of a science center on its community. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(1), 1-12.

Teon Edwards
Teon Edwards
November 15, 2023 12:57 pm
Let’s hear it for all the Teacher Champions out there, advocating for and putting systems into place to support involvement in this education program and in other educational opportunities for their students.

Do you have any information in your study about how, in turn, programs can advocate for and support these vital Teacher Champions? Thanks.

Jim Hammerman
Jim Hammerman
November 16, 2023 2:30 pm
Reply to  Teon Edwards
Thanks, Teon. GMRI has been fantastic about making it easy for teacher champions to make the field trip happen at their schools. This starts with easy sign up/ scheduling and providing permissions and logistics suggestions, to providing free (corporate funded) round trip bus service from even the furthest communities (4.5 hours travel each way). There are curriculum resources for before and after the trip and GMRI has been developing online notebooks with records of what students have done on the trip that they can continue to work with throughout the year. We’re also learning from the community case studies what people say supports school and community engagement.
Joni Falk
Joni Falk
November 20, 2023 12:52 pm
This is such interesting work. Wondering what the student experience in the “ecosystem” is beyond the annual lab venture trip. Are there other supporting experiences that occur throughout the year?