Date of Award

Summer 8-19-2016

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)


Science and Mathematics Education


Susan McKay

Second Committee Member

Sara Lindsay

Third Committee Member

Molly Schauffler


Ninth grade teachers in the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership (Maine PSP) and researchers at the University of Maine identified a lack of student engagement in the science classroom as a serious problem and sought to improve engagement by making science classroom experiences more relevant to students’ daily lives. To test a possible approach for solving this problem, teachers and researchers co-designed and implemented a lesson focused on a Maine-based topic. The design process was documented, and as the lesson was taught, researchers recorded and video-taped class discussions. Student written work and follow-up interviews with teachers provided additional insights into the impacts of the lesson.

The first goal of this research was to describe and assess the collaborative process of designing a new lesson with a Maine focus and how successfully this lesson was implemented in the classroom. This goal is addressed by analyzing how the collaborative process influenced lesson design, teaching practices, and this research. The entire collaboration process was documented and teachers were interviewed after they taught the lesson.

The second goal of this research was to understand how a Maine-based lesson impacts student engagement and student ability to synthesize information for ninth grade science students in rural Maine schools. This goal was accomplished through multiple means, including student pre- and post-attitude surveys, student written responses to questions in the lesson, and group discussions during the lesson. The surveys identified shifts in student attitudes towards science, and how science relates to their lives. The written responses compared students’ ability to synthesize information from a place-relevant lesson and a lesson in the curriculum that is not place relevant. The group discussions were analyzed to assess the depth of student discussion and breadth of student participation to see if students led more productive conversations when discussing a topic that was relevant to where the students lived.

Findings indicate that teachers appreciate the collaborative process and think it is beneficial to the implementation of new instructional material. Students indicated in surveys that they appreciate and, in many cases, prefer place-relevant material to material that is not relevant to their lives. Surveys also show that students find class more interesting when it is focused on issues related to where they live. During the lesson students had productive, on-task conversations and teachers stated that students were more likely to contribute to discussion than normal. However, classroom observation did influence some class discussions limiting the discussion data available.