COE highlights Newton's research and faculty, student work

Research is integral to the field of education due to its ability to increase knowledge and improve educational practice.

Every year, East Carolina University hosts Research & Creative Achievement Week (RCAW) to allow students to practice presentation skills and showcase their research. As part of RCAW, the College of Education Research Committee sponsors a Faculty Research Showcase.

“The purpose of this forum is to showcase outstanding and significant research conducted by COE faculty,” according to this year’s announcement. The 2020 showcase focused on research that prepares individuals to teach, lead and inspire, and has the potential to transform communities, practice, organizations and/or the world.

Dr. Mark Newton

Dr. Mark Newton

As a part of this showcase, the research committee invites a faculty lecturer to discuss their work. This year, Dr. Mark Newton from the Department of Mathematics Education, Science Education and Instructional Technology was the chosen speaker for his paper, The Association Between Course Context and Preservice Teachers’ Perceptions of SSI Instruction.

Socio-scientific issues (SSI) are science-related social issues and are open-ended problems with a variety of solutions. These problems require students to engage in evidence-based reasoning.

“SSI research is important for the field of education because teachers are being asked to accomplish more every day with less time and facilitate change in students in ways that have not historically been asked,” Newton said.

Instruction in SSIs has become more relevant recently due to the real-world situations that teachers and students are facing, such as climate change, pandemics and coastal resiliency.

“Our future citizens need to be able to resolve these issues in ways that are sustainable for humanity and the environment and I feel like it is my responsibility to help develop people who can analyze these issues and make thoughtful, educated decisions,” Newton said.

Newton learned about SSI while in a graduate class for his master’s degree and he began implementing it in his middle school classroom. Later in his career he taught a class at Yellowstone National Park about the wolves in the area that was an SSI-based course, although it wasn’t labeled as one.

“That inspired me to get my Ph.D. and research experiential SSI because the group that taught the Yellowstone class was constantly having to defend the course to their administration at their university,” Newton said. “My colleagues were so busy teaching that they never had a chance to research. I wanted to thank them by researching the course and giving them evidence to present to their administration in support of their course.”

Newton conducted a study with other researchers that explored how the context in which the SSI is introduced can often shape the views of pre-service teachers on what is important regarding SSI instruction.

“We wanted to start exploring how teacher education programs might help facilitate the use of SSI instruction in elementary classrooms,” he said.

The study consisted of pre-service elementary teachers at a large public urban university in the southeastern United States and at a small public university in the western United States. One group was introduced to SSI in their methods course without any context. The other group first experienced SSI from the student perspective and then learned the theory behind the framework with their own experience to back it up. The results showed that all students thought that SSI was valuable but the ones who had experienced it from a student viewpoint felt more comfortable and more prepared to teach science.

“I think students would benefit from having real world examples and issues being used in the classroom. Instead of having students copy terms from a textbook, students will be able to work with issues that could teach them valuable life skills. Elementary students are not too young for SSI, the lessons will just have to be for grade level,” one of the preservice teachers in the environmental science class said after completing the SSI unit as part of the study.

Newton said that other students gave similar responses and remarked that the experience with real world examples shifted how preservice teachers viewed science as a discipline.

“We found this important to highlight because our experience training preservice elementary teachers is often a fear of science and apprehension to teach science.”

Since his move to Greenville, Newton has begun to apply the results of this study in his classroom at ECU. After the university moved to online instruction due to COVID-19, he wanted to make his coursework more engaging for students.

“I had planned on looking at SSI as one of the ways to use inquiry instruction but felt that actually participating in an SSI experience related to North Carolina would be engaging and a novel experience for my students to learn about in more detail,” Newton said.

He and his students focused on North Carolina Highway 12 and the surrounding area in the Outer Banks, which is continuously damaged by storms and hurricanes. The highway is under constant maintenance by the N.C. Department of Transportation and the beach has undergone multiple modifications to protect homes and roads.

The students took part in a variety of exercises including watching news clips, discussion board posts, science videos and the jigsaw cooperative learning strategy. Their final project was a group paper where they had to create a solution to the problem.

Newton hopes his research will help teachers find a way to develop scientific literacy in their students that will assist those students as they tackle problems in a moral and ethical manner.

“I hope that students will learn to be skeptical of information and know how to analyze sources to identify potential biases. I hope that they will learn to be empathetic towards those who are impacted by these issues by being able to assume other perspectives,” he said. “I also hope that students will learn what science is and what its limitations are.”

During RCAW, COE scheduled faculty roundtable presentations and faculty poster presentations. In addition to these, students were invited to host roundtable presentations.

Invited Faculty Roundtable Presenters:

  • Enclothed Cognition: Putting Lab Coats to the Test – M. Gail Jones, Tammy Lee, Katherine Chesnutt, Sarah Carrier, Megan Ennes, Emily Cayton, Lauren Madden and Pamela Huff
  • When College Students Direct Their Learning – Kevin Currie-Knight
  • A Computational Model of Student Cognitive Processes While Solving a Critical Thinking Problem in Science – Richard Lamb
  • Exploring the Short-term Impacts of a Community-based Book Distribution Program – Kimberly L. Anderson, Terry S. Atkinson, Elizabeth A. Swaggerty and Kevin O’Brien
  • Eliciting to Understand Unfamiliar Student Strategies – Monica Gonzalez and Carrie Lee
  • Co-planning Strategies for Mentor Teachers and Interns – Maureen Grady, Charity Cayton, Ronald V. Preston and Rose Sinicrope

Faculty Poster Presentations:

  • College Literacy Opportunities in Rural Public Libraries – Africa S. Hands
  • Understanding the Impact of Stigma on Mental Health in Rural, Economically Deprived Communities – Loni Crumb
  • Elementary Clinical Experiences: A Mixed Methods Investigation of Self-efficacy in Co-teaching – Christina M. Tschida and Kristen Cuthrell
  • Encouraging Interdisciplinarity: The Impact of Assignment Requirements on Students’ Use of Interdisciplinary Sources in an LIS Research Methods Course – Monica Colon Aguirre and Kawanna Bright
  • Critical Disciplinary Literacy through Read Alouds – Melissa Wrenn
  • Trades-Based Literacy: Community College Faculty’s Exploration of Disciplinary Literacy – Kristen Gregory

Student Roundtable Presentations:

  • Sketch-notes Impact on Secondary Earth/Environmental Science Students – Macey DeMoss
  • Teachers understanding of Problem-Based Learning within an Elementary School in Urban Maryland – Amanda Supplee
  • Preservice Teachers’ Discursive Patterns in Mursion Versus Peer to Peer Science Talks – Amber Meeks
  • Incorporating Storytelling Into Science Classes To Increase Students’ Interest in STEM Related Fields – Carley VanHoy
  • The Impact of Experienced Based Learning on Students’ Academic Achievement – Kayla Baker Boykin
  • The Impact of STEM-based Labs on Student Perceptions of STEM and STEM Careers – Dail Berry
  • Studying Correlations between Eighth Grade Students’ Grades and Internet Usage – Michael Mills

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