UAF research showcase: teaching children to research

Josh Hartman / Sun Star

Why are “sticker bushes” so “poky?” This is one of the questions of the children involved with research by Carie Green, a associate professor in UAF’s School of Education, entitled

The children did their initial exploration in the forest to find out what they would like to do their own research on. Some of the children wore GoPros to document their discoveries and their interactions with the forest. Photo Courtesy of the Ursa Research Showcase

The children did their initial exploration in the forest to find out what they would like to do their own research on. Some of the children wore GoPros to document their discoveries and their interactions with the forest. Photo Courtesy of the Ursa Research Showcase

“Engaging Young children as active researchers: our experience in the forest.”

It was presented by Green, several of undergraduate researchers and the children who were part of the research on Nov. 18 in Schaible Auditorium.

Over the last summer Green conducted research with children in order to study the children’s Environmental Identity Development (EID) and to engage children in research in an exploratory manner.

The EID is how children view themselves and their role in nature, along with how comfortable and secure they feel in nature. The EID is useful because someone with a strong EID would, theoretically, take action to be more conserve the environment, according to Green.

The undergraduate researchers were Katrina Bishop, Renée Avugiak and Gabriel Cartagena.

Green and the undergraduate researchers presented the procedure of the experiment and the children gave a short explanation of the data that they collected.

The event was sponsored by UAF’s office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA).

The presentation started out with an introduction by Barbara Taylor, one of URSA’s co-directors. Then Green began to discuss her research.

“This framework [for research involving children] can be described as research on children, to research with children, to now research by children,” Green said.

During the “research conducted with children” the adults would pose the questions and would still lead the research. With “research by children,” the children form their own research questions and collect data, according to Green.

All of the children who were part of the study were between the ages of three and six. Many of the children also attended the presentation.

This study was conducted over eight weeks during the summer, where the children made 11 one-hour visits to the forest and had seven classroom discussions.

The children were allowed to have open-ended play in the forest that would enable them to form a question to complete their own research. The research projects were introduced to the children through a “research book.”

Green introduced the five steps of the research process to the children, all the while inviting them to discuss what they already know and what they would like to find out about participating in research, according to Green.

Green and the undergraduate researchers facilitated the children’s research. The undergraduates each completed between 100-200 hours of work

In order to record the children’s exploration they were outfitted with GoPro cameras that recorded video from the children’s perspective. They also were given iPads to take pictures with, however the iPads quickly became too much of a distraction, according to Green.

Afterward the children were shown the video that they had recorded to prompt a discussion of what they noticed in the forest and what they would like learn more about.

The children decided on five topics that they would like to research which were rose bushes, forest houses/castles, bugs, “x” marks the spot (searching for “x” shaped branches) and trees.

In order for the children to record their data they divided themselves up into four groups which were GoPro tours, art, building models and roleplaying. The children were then asked to examine whichever topic they chose using their type of data collection.

The children who went on the GoPro tours walked around the forest documenting their exploration. The ones who were using art or model building represented their observations through their creations. Then the children who used roleplaying to collect data acted out scenes from the forest by dressing up as insects, animals and plants.

Each of these methods of data collection have different benefits and drawbacks, according to Green. For example, the GoPro tours provided the perspective of the child and what they see.

“It really puts the perspective of the child’s size and how big adults are,” Green said. “You can see how the adults tower over them. It gives you a view that a traditional video method cannot.”

After the children collected their data they designed a page to go in the research book using paint, things they found in the forest, and pictures that were taken of them.

When asked about what was next in terms of the research, Green said that she will be analyzing all the data and looking at each particular method in detail.

“I think that it’s important to recognize that children are constantly constructing their own culture and place,” Green said. “Their understanding of the world matters.”

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