Motivating Learners in Secondary Science Classrooms: Analysis of a Computer-Supported, Inquiry-Based Learning Environment Using Self-Determination Theory
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In spite of generally poor student reports about science instruction in K-12 classrooms and decreasing interest in STEM careers, some curricular programs have successfully motivated and engaged students. One such program is PlantingScience, an inquiry-based, computer-supported learning curriculum developed by the Botanical Society of America. PlantingScience uniquely utilizes professional scientists who serve as online mentors to K-12 students engaged in classroom inquiry projects. In an effort to determine why PlantingScience is successful, I began this dissertation with an extensive literature review discussing how technology and mentoring affect student motivation. Additionally, I conducted two original research studies using multiple data streams including classroom observations, teacher interviews, a focus group of teachers and scientists, and online dialogues between students and scientists. In the first study, I used Elliot Eisner’s Connoisseurship/Critique model of qualitative analysis to describe, interpret, and evaluate PlantingScience. More specifically, I created a grounded theory explaining how PlantingScience motivates and engages students. I subsequently compared these findings with self-determination theory to determine how the results could be explained in regard to autonomy, competence, and relatedness. In the second study, I used mixed methods to create a rubric measuring scientists’ online motivational support from the perspective of self-determination theory. I also measured student inquiry engagement using a preexisting rubric specifically designed for the PlantingScience program. Using these two measures, I investigated the associations between scientist-mentors’ motivational support and student inquiry engagement. The findings in this dissertation provided evidence that students are motivated to engage in PlantingScience in part because of student empowerment, online mentor interaction, and authentic scientific experiences. In particular, the relationships developed between students and scientists in the online asynchronous environments were critical to the success of the program. As a general rule, students engaged in the inquiry projects more thoroughly as their scientist-mentors’ motivational support increased. Perhaps the online mentoring partnership model offered by PlantingScience can be used on a wider scale to address the challenges of students’ lack of interest in classroom science and STEM career fields.
Scogin, Stephen C. (2014). Motivating Learners in Secondary Science Classrooms: Analysis of a Computer-Supported, Inquiry-Based Learning Environment Using Self-Determination Theory. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from