It is an Experience, Not a Lesson: The Nature of High School Students’ Experiences at a Biological Field Station
The purpose of this case study was to describe the nature of high school students’ experiences in the immersive four-day field experience at Stone Laboratory Biological Field Station including excursions to Kelley’s Island and South Bass Island. Six tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade students participated through interviews, photovoice, observations, and a survey. Pretrip semi-structured interviews were conducted to understand each participant student’s relationship with science. Participants were given cameras to record their field trip experiences to relate what they found interesting, important, and exciting. Back at school after the field trip, the participants were asked to choose their five most meaningful photographs, and write a short essay to describe the significance of each image. A posttrip semi-structured interview explored each participant’s experiences during the field trip. An unstructured interview was conducted to discuss each participant’s full photograph gallery from the field trip. Interview transcripts were member checked with one minor wording change. Analysis consisted of open coding using apriori codes derived from the ecological framework and emergent codes derived from the data. Coding was duplicated through multiple readers. Significant findings included: 1) Prior experience, prior knowledge, and funds of knowledge added relevance and value to an experience, facilitating interest development; 2) Experiences appeared to be more meaningful when all the senses were stimulated; 3) Friends and peers were an essential part of a quality experience; 4) Quality experiences included a wow factor, or sudden awareness; 5) Teachers needed to be within the experience, not the focus of the experience, and needed to be available to answer questions, be enthusiastic when a discovery was made, and promote student reflection concerning their perceptions and discoveries; 6) A quality informal learning situation incorporated the cognitive/affective, physical, and social aspects into the experience; 7) Field trips created science interest that students desired to continue when they returned to their classroom; and 8) Biological field stations, in this study specifically Stone Laboratory, and the additional exploratory excursions on the surrounding islands provided high quality experiences that encouraged student interest in the biological and environmental sciences.