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Survey Says… An Online Approach
for Collecting Student Feedback on Middle School Science Projects

Pamela S. Watson

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Zoo Design Project

The third project was a Zoo Design Project which required the use various computer software programs (Word, PPT, Publisher, Excel). All students began the project by doing Internet research on animals and zoos. Each student filled in a template about information on three different zoo animals they selected to investigate. In addition, they went to the websites of both small and large zoos to find out unique features of the zoo, including animals found at the zoo, conservation efforts, and maps of the zoos. Groups of four students were purposely assigned by the teacher so that a mix of gender, ability, and personality was included. Students were allowed to pick his or her own job within the group. The jobs included the Zoo Designer who made a map of the zoo, the Zoo Keeper who made a spreadsheet of the zoo animals with their characteristics and needs, the Zoo Publicist who made a logo for the zoo as well as a brochure to publicize the zoo, and the Zoo Conservationist who made a PPT or brochure to explain the zoo's conservation efforts. Those groups where more than one student wanted the same job had to come up with a fair way to decide who got the job. “Rock—paper—scissors” was the usual method students employed. Within each group, students had to share their collected information and collaborate on overall issues about their zoo such as (a) which animals to include, (b) what conservation effort they would pursue, and (c) what unique features they would incorporate into their zoo. They then worked individually on their specific piece of the project. The students had five days in the computer lab to work on this project. Finally, the students had to present their group's zoo design to the entire class using a data projector. Depending on the job the students chose, they either used an unfamiliar computer program and had to learn how to use the software or they worked with a program they were already comfortable using.

Zoo Design Example

 

Analysis

After students completed each of the projects in this study, they were emailed an invitation to take an online survey (see Appendix A, Appendix B, and Appendix C). Students were given class time to complete the online survey instrument, thus there was a high completion rate. The initial survey, in addition to questions about the specific project, also had several questions about the student's basic computer skills and access to computers. The majority of the questions on the three surveys were five-point Likert-scaled questions relating to the specific project. The survey website tabulated the results, and the results were downloaded into a spreadsheet format for quantitative analysis. In addition, the Animation and Zoo projects contained one open-ended question: If you spent more time outside of class to finish the project, what were the major reasons that caused you to need that extra time? The responses were reviewed qualitatively and coded by a group of three graduate students and one university professor. The student responses were analyzed for common themes. As these emerged, the themes were color coded on the data sheet. In addition, each color code was assigned a number in the spreadsheet to aid in tabulation of the male and female responses. To increase validity, three of the four coders had to agree on where a response should be placed within a particular code. Twelve themes emerged which included perfectionism, time management, partner issues, home computer problems, and those students who had no difficulties in finishing the project in class.

Findings

Survey results were separated by project and by gender. The initial survey also gathered data about computer comfort levels as well as computer skill levels and computer availability. All surveys asked how much additional time was needed to complete the project outside of class as well as where the project was completed such as at home or during advisory. Each project had a variety of questions relating to specifics about the project such as (a) Was it a challenging project? (b) Was it easy or hard to find information? (c) Did you teach a computer skill to someone else? Responses were separated by gender for comparison.

Gender Differences in Computer Access, Comfort Levels, and Skills

On the initial survey, students were posed several questions about computer usage. A very high percentage of both males (96%) and females (95%) had Internet access at home. Eighty-five percent of females agreed or strongly agreed that they were comfortable using computers and eighty-seven percent of males marked the same two categories. A very small percentage of females (2%) and males (5%) disagreed or strongly disagreed that they are comfortable using computers. In addition, students were asked to check which computer programs and skills they were comfortable using. Males and females showed similar comfort levels with most programs and skills except in two areas. Girls had higher comfort levels using PPT and Publisher. It was surprising that the males did not rate PPT as one they were comfortable using because PPT is used often in classes at this school. Most of the seventh graders have used Publisher and Excel but not as often as Word or PPT. The students have had limited exposure to Movie Maker, Photoshop, and databases which correlate to the minimal number of teachers in the school using those programs. Ninety percent or more of both males and females rated themselves as comfortable in downloading images and resizing images and at least 84% felt secure in their ability to attach something to an email. Home computer availability as well as the fact that these students have used computers throughout their school career led to high technology comfort levels among students.

Work Environments

In all projects, a majority of both males and females completed the projects at their own homes rather than at school or other sites. This correlates to the fact that almost all students had access to a computer at their home. The PT project had a much higher home completion percentage while the Animation project had a higher percentage of students staying at school to complete the work. On the Animation project, many students worked with a partner and the school was a convenient meeting place because computers were available for student use. Another contributing factor to finishing the animations at school was the availability of PPT on the school's computers. Some students did not have access to this program on their home computers. Males used the twenty minute daily advisory period within the school day to work on their projects more often than staying before or after school more often than females (see Table 1).

Table 1
Completion Location
             
   

During advisory
%

Before school
%

After school
%

My house
%

Friend's house
%

Other
%

PT Male 9 2 5 76 2 5
  Female 0 2 0 85 3 7
Animation Male 11 11 2 44 4 29
  Female 9 7 5 53 9 18
Zoo Male 13 4 4 58 0 22
Design Female 4 5 5 70 4 13

Each project had a different amount of class time devoted to instruction and work on the project. The more challenging projects were given more class time. In all three projects, the teacher expected that students would need additional time outside of class to complete the project. The due date of the project was several days after the students had completed the allotted amount of class time spent in the computer lab. In the PT project, students were given two days in a computer lab to work on the project. The project was due six days later. Seventy-six percent of the males and 68% of the females took two hours or less outside of class to finish the PT project. In the Animation project, students were given three days in a computer lab to work on the project which was due five days later. In the Animation project, 24% of males and 12% of females completed the project in class. Sixty-three percent of the males and 64% of the females took two hours or less outside of class to finish the Animation project. In the Zoo Design project, after five days in the computer lab, the groups presented their projects to the class eleven days later. This time period included the Thanksgiving holiday. In the Zoo Design project, 80% of the males completed the project outside of class in two hours or less compared to 79% of the females. In most projects, at least three-fourths of males and females were able to complete the projects in two hours or less (see Table 2).

Table 2
Completion Time Outside of Class
             
    Finished in Class 1 hour 2 hours 3 hours 4 hours 5 hours +
PT Male 0 38 38 11 7 5
  Female 0 36 32 19 5 5
Animation Male 24 36 27 7 6 0
  Female 12 39 25 14 5 5
Zoo Male 20 40 20 11 2 7
Design Female 12 42 25 12 4 4

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Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal
a service of NC State University, Raleigh, NC
Volume 12, Issue 2, 2009
ISSN 1097-9778
URL: http://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/summer2009/
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