Date of Award
Bachelor of Science (BS)
Department of Biology
Kerry Cresawn, Ph.D.
Research has shown that elementary school is a critical time to pique children’s interest in science. However, many enrichment activities known to pique this interest in young children are not available to students of low socioeconomic status, English Language Learners, racial minorities, and students with disabilities. This has encouraged many higher education institutions to develop STEM outreach programs. Because of the cognitive gap between STEM professionals and young children and the logistics of implementing student-centered activities in heterogeneous classrooms, programs usually consist of activities that impress students with “sophisticated” science but are beyond the cognitive levels of most students and do not create lasting interest in science or facilitate learning. These activities can also be unattractive for teachers, as they do not have the resources to carry out expensive, complex lessons and are already rushed to cover material required by the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs). Development of a sustainable K-5 outreach model that piques interest while aligning with foundational standards requires an understanding of the extent to which a short-duration enrichment lesson can enhance conceptual understanding of topics. To assess a novel K-5 outreach model to make science enrichment accessible to all children, data were collected representing children’s conceptions of food chains through visual representation. Although no statistically significant changes in understanding were seen, student scores increased overall after the lesson and misconceptions were uncovered that can be used to further develop the lesson. This study also gathered baseline data that can serve as a model for assessing other outreach lessons, ultimately leading to an outreach model that serves K-5 communities as well as the engagement missions of higher education institutions throughout the country.
Snowden, Shelby, "An Exploratory Study to Understand Elementary School Students’ Conceptions of Food Chains" (2017). Senior Honors Projects, 2010-current. 327.