Recent evidence suggests that reasoning and making decisions about ecological systems is a cultural activity that impacts participation in the core scientific practices of observation, evidence use, and claims making. This project aims to develop an innovative field-based science learning approach that will support the capacity of culturally diverse students in Grades K-3 to engage in complex ecological reasoning and related problem solving. To provide rich learning environments, outdoor learning gardens will be created in which students, teachers, garden educators, and families participate in activities that facilitate the investigation of tangible ecological challenges such as water capture and food security. This project is funded by the Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12, which seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

Using design-based research, the project team will collaborate with teachers, parents of participating students, and community garden educators to collectively design and develop four key components: 1) field-based curricular units for K-3 classrooms; 2) a model of family and community engagement that strengthens cultural relevance and equity in field-based science learning; 3) a pilot program of teacher professional development that informs future scaling efforts; and 4) research that unpacks student learning and teacher instructional practices that support children?s complex ecological reasoning and the cultural contexts of such knowledge. Data sources will include video, interviews, surveys, and student-created artifacts. A mixed-methods approach will be used to produce research findings at multiple levels including: student learning about complex ecological phenomena and field-based practices; classroom-level learning and high-leverage teaching practices in model units at each grade level; impacts of co-design on professional learning and practice; and family and community organizations learning and engagement in field-based science education. The project will be carried out by a research-practice-community partnership in Seattle, Washington that includes learning scientists (University of Washington), K-3 teachers and school administrators (Seattle Public Schools), garden educators (Seattle Tilth), and parents of participating students. In total, eight schools, 32 teachers, 800 students, and 32 families are expected to participate.