Learning Achievement and Motivation in an Out-of-School Setting—Visiting Amphibians and Reptiles in a Zoo Is More Effective than a Lesson at School

Abstract

Interventions in out-of-school settings have been shown in previous studies to be effectively increase students’ science knowledge and motivation, with mixed results on whether they are more effective than teaching at school. In this study, we compared an out-of-school setting in a reptile and amphibian zoo (Landau, Germany) with a sequence of classroom teaching and a control group without teaching on the topic. We compared learning at school (School) and out-of-school learning (Reptilium), which were tested in a randomized field setting with a focus on knowledge and motivation. Sixty-five elementary students participated in either the School group, Reptilium group or control group. We measured knowledge on the topics reptiles and amphibians with a newly developed two-factorial test, calibrated with item response theory, before the intervention, immediately afterwards (posttest) and 2 weeks later (follow-up). Motivation was measured immediately after the intervention. Data analyses were performed using SPSS and Mplus. We conclude that the two interventions appeared highly superior to the control group and that the out-of-school setting in the Reptilium was more effective than the school-only program. Concerning motivation, perception of choice was higher in the Reptilium than in the School group. There were gender-by-treatment interaction effects for knowledge in the posttest and follow-up, for perceived competence and for pressure/tension. Concerning knowledge, boys performed better in the School group than girls but this gender gap was not significant in the Reptilium group. Boys perceived themselves as more competent in the School group while girls reported less pressure/tension in the Reptilium group. In conclusion, encountering living animals in a formal zoo learning arrangement is encouraged in primary school since it supports self-determination (free choice), leads to higher achievement and closes gender disparities in achievement.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the students, parents, teachers and the principal of the Friedrich-Ebert-Schule in Mannheim who made this study possible.

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Correspondence to Christian Vollmer.

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Wünschmann, S., Wüst-Ackermann, P., Randler, C. et al. Learning Achievement and Motivation in an Out-of-School Setting—Visiting Amphibians and Reptiles in a Zoo Is More Effective than a Lesson at School. Res Sci Educ 47, 497–518 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-016-9513-2

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Keywords

  • Primary school students
  • Field trip
  • Achievement
  • Motivation
  • Zoos
  • Science Education